Don’t judge a book by its cover

homeless - traveller

image: iStock photo

OK, this isn’t a blog about books or their covers, but have you ever made a judgment about someone’s behaviour then later realised you were completely wrong?

While I was waiting in line at a coffee shop earlier, a woman drove alongside the queue in a mobility scooter. There was only a narrow space between the line of people and the tables, which she attempted to drive along. She drove over my foot and faintly looked back. She didn’t apologise.

I had a fleeting thought that I expected she would have apologised, but then I just dismissed it and got back to the more important task of selecting which pastry I was going to have with my coffee. For the record, I chose a blueberry muffin, which I suppose isn’t really a pastry.

The lady and I ended up sitting at adjacent tables. She was on the end of a row, so that she could park her scooter. After about half an hour or so, when she had finished her coffee, she got up and back onto her scooter. It wouldn’t start. She tried to turn the key several times before telephoning the place she purchased it from.

An engineer turned up within 5 minutes. The place must have been local. I couldn’t help overhear because they were only a few feet away from me, but it turned out she had only just collected the scooter that morning. This was her very first outing in it, and the first time she had ever driven a mobility scooter. She’d come to the coffee shop for a stress-rest.

I heard that she felt really self-conscious, that she wasn’t at all confident driving it. She certainly wasn’t used to its speed, nor its width, and this combination made it quite stressful when she had to drive it through narrow gaps.

I felt such compassion for the lady. It really hadn’t bothered me at all that she’d driven over my foot. But I had made an assumption, however, that a person doing that should apologise, that an apology is the norm. But says who?

That assumption also assumes a level playing field, that everyone has the same degree of stuff going on in their lives. But we all know that’s not true?

How many times have you felt judged by someone and you only wished they knew what your life was like right then? Or you wished they knew what you had to weigh up in your mind before making a choice or decision that affected them?

We can’t ever know what’s going on in a person’s mind when their behaviour hurts or offends us unless they tell us.

When the lady turned around after driving over my foot, I suspect she wanted to say something, but a mixture of feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, plus afraid that she might drive over someone else’s foot as she navigated along the narrow space between the queue and the tables, made her channel all her energy into just looking forward and keep going in a straight line.

Next time you’re about to judge someone, pause for a second and remind yourself that people have judged you without knowing what was going on in your mind or your life.

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  1. ed on August 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

    She should have apologised, end of. A simple ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I just got this this morning and I’m not used to it’ would have sufficed. Also it would have been kind of people to move to make room for her scooter.

  2. andriana on August 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    In my humble opinion -it is more then normal stress ,fear, insecurity,self-doubt etc… to be overtaking the good manners and yes, it is good (as the old people say) to take time and count to 10 or even 100 before judging .The question is how many could build the patience and discipline to control their judgemental habits and develop compassion no matter the lack of manners in certain cases…Anyhow , thank you David, for this one , pleasure to read it and to think on it and share it as it is a good reminder for many.

  3. Susan Hofman on August 26, 2014 at 12:08 am

    You are so right,let’s cut people abit of slack and stop being so beeping judgemental.Lets chill out out and get others a break when we can and we can a lot of the time!

  4. Sue Brodie on August 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

    It’s possible as it was her first outing on the scooter that she didn’t even realise what she had done – who knows.

  5. Julia on August 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    The blueberry muffin rather than a pastry is a welcome distraction in this well observed (as usual) piece of writing. It draws my mind nicely away from the uncomfortable recognition that I often judge, feel judged and know with certainty that I have been judged without people knowing what was going on in my life, and on top of that I have a mother who sometimes uses a scooter and may also have been guilty in the past of doing the same thing as this lady! And so … I think I will go and get myself a chocolate flake dessert to distract me even further … especially as the weather is so miserable 🙂

  6. Marléne Rose Shaw on August 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Wonderful story David. I hope your foot is okay. It’s so easy to judge other people. Afterall we are natural judgers. One little exercise I do with my clients is to get them to imagine, or draw, a circle….. Place the person you are judging in the center of the circle. And yourself on the edge of the circle. Then place yourself somewhere else around the edge of the circle looking at that person from a completely different viewpoint. It’s a powerful little exercise to help see the bigger picture.

  7. Claire on August 27, 2014 at 7:19 am

    I’m with you there, David. I believe you never really know what’s going on in people’s lives & if at all possible (depending on my state of mind to be honest) I’d prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. After all, if I hold onto some feeling on being mistreated in some way by them, it doesn’t really do me (or them) any good!