Of them all, there are two I’d like to pass on to you. The first is one told by Steven Covey. As I remember it, he’s on a packed subway car heading home for dinner. Everybody has worked at least eight hours and most people are tired. Many are quietly reading. All except for these two kids who are carrying on loudly as their dad, sitting right next to Covey seems not to notice.
After the collective frustration of everyone in the car had risen to match his own, Covey leaned into the man and asked if he would please reign in the kids. People were tired and the children were so loud, please. You know that feeling: Aghhh! Could you just get a grip here! No, I don’t have to explain to you what Covey was thinking. We’ve all been there and done that. What on earth was this guy’s problem?
I’m sorry, his seat-mate responded, barely lifting his eyes. We’re coming from the hospital where my wife just passed away. I’m in shock and my kids probably are too. I’m overwhelmed with grief, not sure what to do.
Wow…. Ok…. Yeah… who was I about to judge? What a powerful story. Judging caught off-guard by a glimpse of the heart. I wish all our stories were this simple, but that is hardly the case. Most hearts and motives are far more obscure and complex. We will never know most of the whys of things, ever. And that’s why we can’t make little pigeonholes and stick people in (or through) them. People aren’t pigeons, for starters, and we definitely can’t see far enough or feel deep enough. Just like Jeremiah the Prophet wrote, only God has a clean take on every human heart, so only God can rightly apply the true meaning to our behaviors.
So why on earth do we judge each other so much? Maybe it’s for all the insecurities we harbor inside. Maybe when someone else’s behavior triggers our inner turmoil we take their actions to be an assault against our own personhood, or at least our own coping mechanisms. I think it’s probably fear that drives us to judge up a storm and condemn. They’ve made it uncomfortable for us and so we come up with reasons why that implicate and condemn. Maybe it’s how we try to feel in control of things.
If you meditate on the whole me putting my meaning on your behavior, and compound it with you putting your meaning on mine, and then you remember how versed we all are in doing irrational things to hide what’s really being felt and sought, wow, you can see the mess judgment can make. As if things aren’t confusing enough.
Whenever I’m in the thick of judgment, clawing for a gavel and a robe, that’s when I try to retell the Covey train story to myself and get my mind back on track. It usually does fast work and I’m again set straight. If it doesn’t, I can always go to favorite judgment story number two. I call it the lemon-drop cookie story.
I don’t know where I got this story. I think somebody forwarded it to my yahoo mailroom. Anyway, it starts out with a woman waiting for her flight to be called. She’s reading her magazine and eating her bag of lemon drop cookies and all is well. Any minute it will be time to board. It is a nice day.
Then it happened. Without looking she reached into her bag for another cookie. And what? The man next to her had his hand in her cookie bag! She smiled that teeth-clenched smile we all muster up in times like these and turned back to her magazine. And you and I both know exactly what she must have been thinking. It’s what we’re thinking when the tollbooth guy doesn’t have enough money or an SUV cuts in front of us. It’s that free-for-all feeling of judgment, disgust and consternation. It’s that I can’t believe this is happening—and to me! sort of feeling.
For all her shock, the lady in the story couldn’t help but notice that the guy was smiling, almost even chuckling to himself. Of all the nerve! Not quite bold enough to move the bag, she gobbled up her cookies faster and faster; eyeballing her frustration so he’d know she was hardly pleased.
And then finally her flight was called. What a relief! Dismissing the urge to speak, she grabbed what was left of her cookies and found her seat on the airplane. Throwing her book bag down on the seat next to her she took a deep breath. Then something strange happened. She heard a very familiar sound. It was the crunchy cookie bag sound and it was coming from her book bag. What?
Oh how I love the next part. Digging through her book bag she is flabbergasted. Kaboom! There is her unopened bag of lemon-drop cookies! What…? As the truth sunk in, I imagine she felt kind of sick to her stomach. I bet she mentally played back how the man had chuckled and smiled. I bet she also turned a very rosy red and shuttered a little. In good human form she had judged the cookie eater a thief while polishing off his cookies.
No matter what the situation, the reminder of this little tale is enough to stop me in my tracks. There can be no question but that we have all eaten each other’s cookies, and often with a grand sense of our own piety. It is crazy to the point of funny and crazy to the point of tragic. I bet I could count scores of stories in my life and those dear to me, that can be measured out by this little tale of lemon drop cookies.
And so it is with the retelling these two little bedtime stories, that I put my judging thoughts to sleep for what I plan on being a long, long time. And what a good feeling that is.
Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.