Judgment vs Empathy

Post by Alexis Yael for the Kind Kindred series.

photo by Alexis

Judgment vs Empathy

Judgment starts with an assumption.

I assume that the person in front of me in line at the grocery store should be moving faster. I begin judging them for their slowness. The constant stream of chatter in my brain gets more and more upset. I am frowning. I am unkind, both to the person in front of me (who I probably won’t interact with) and then maybe even to the cashier, who will spread the unkindness further, the bad day she’s having making her unkind with all the rest of the customers to come.

So, back up. Go back to that original assumption: the person in front of me should be going faster.

But what if?

What if they have an indiscernible chronic illness?
What if they got laid off recently?
What if their mother is dying?
What if when they get back home again, there will a constant barrage of need?

(The list of things that can slow a person down at the grocery store is pretty endless.)

If this person who you don’t know had breast cancer and was in treatment, would you still assume that they should be moving faster, just so you can get out of the store a few seconds earlier?

It all starts with an assumption.

Sometimes the assumption is that your life matters more than everyone else’s. Or that you are always right.

When I was little, my mother (and I’ll go ahead and assume your mother might have said it too, because my mom totally did not make this up on her own) had a saying she liked to repeat to us: “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.”

Oh, it’s exactly the kind of saying my very literate family liked. Playing with words was one of our favorite things. Even my little sister, who has some learning disabilities, joined in.

But even the funniest of truisms can be true.

Assuming starts the chain of events that leads to judgment, that leads to the withholding of empathy.

So, let me go back.

There’s a person in front of me in the store going slowly. So. Slowly. I am in a rush. I am feeling very impatient. I start to assume all sorts of things about this slow person in front of me. I start frowning.

And then I remember. I remember that I don’t really know anything about this person in front of me or their path in this world. I remember that I am not more important than anyone else, that we are all stardust. I stop assuming. I stop judging. I take a deep breath.

(Maybe I switch lanes. Maybe I can’t. But either way, I start practicing patience.)

I smile instead of frowning.

And now my empathy has a chance to spread, instead of my resentment.

The cashier feels seen when I look at her in the eye and smile. Her day brightens. She is kinder to those behind me. I have helped instead of hindered.

And all because I didn’t assume the worst. Because I didn’t assume anything, I just stayed in the present moment, with what was.

All because I choose to be empathetic instead of judgmental.

All because of me.

Alexis Yael is a poet/ photographer living in northern New Jersey with her soul mate and their incredible, nerd to the second power (autistic) kid. She believes everything is beautiful, even in the darkest hour. Depression is her kryptonite and her superpower is empathy and yes, indeed, those two things are intertwined completely. Her discovery of wabi sabi happened long before she stumbled upon the blogosphere, but her appreciation of its aesthetic and philosophical truth has only deepened throughout the years.

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