Passing judgement or passing on judgement: when it’s time to take a closer look

Photo by Shane on

It is in my nature to try to look for the best in others. It’s one of the reasons I became a Probation Officer. If someone cuts me up in traffic I’ll reason that maybe they are on the way to the birth of their first child, or if someone is rude to me I’ll tell myself they must be having a bad day.

I’ve always been quite open and accepting of others. I remember I used to sit and chat with homeless people in the street when I was young. I’ll give them change if I have it, if a stranger talks to me I’ll gladly converse (unless they’re trying to sell me something, I have to draw a line somewhere).

But I’m not as trusting as I once was.

Some people might say this is just life experience: the older we get the more aware we are of what can go wrong. It would be easy to label this distrust as healthy scepticism.

But what if the world isn’t any scarier? What if it’s my perception that’s shifted?

As we get older we can become more impatient, more entrenched in our views and less willing to see if there’s another way to look at things: we’re adults after all, and sometimes we think we know it all!

We all make snap judgements based on our assumptions. Assumptions are actually an energy saving function of the brain. The brain strives for efficiency, and it will use our past experiences to form patterns, or assumptions, and apply them to new situations, thereby conserving energy.

Our past shapes our present view of the world.

This can be useful most of the time: when the light turns green we know we can go without having to question it, but sometimes we can be operating on outdated assumptions, or information that is flat out wrong, and not even realise it. Sometimes we can just interpret things differently: how many of you imagined yourself as a motorist sitting in a car when the lights turned green? How many of you were on a motorbike, or a pedal bike? How many of you imagined yourself as a pedestrian crossing the road? None are wrong, just informed by our individual experiences.

What about facts, they don’t change, right?

Scientific facts do. They’re evolving all the time, yet we often forget just how little we know. Its easy to become complacent and think we know it all. Charles Holland Duell, the Commissioner of the United states patent office in the late 1800’s is quoted as predicting the patent office would soon close because, ‘Everything that can be invented has been invented.’ I wonder what he’d think of ipads?

What about misconstrued facts? Have you ever realised there’s something from childhood you thought you knew for certain, only to find out you were wrong? I’ve got a few, mostly related to words:

Up until relatively recently I thought talon was pronounced tay-lon, I thought banal was pronounced bay-nal, and I thought Nambia was a country in Africa (must have got Gambia and Namibia mixed up in my head at some point!)

I was chagrined on each occasion I got things wrong.

But we can never know everything, even in areas we are passionate about. There is always room to question.

Questioning doesn’t have to mean overthinking things, or losing trust in ourselves.

I have experienced both of these things over the years, and the thoughts involved in wondering if we’ve misunderstood a situation, or choosing to look at something through a different lens, are very different from the circular questioning involved in overthinking, or the self flagellation often inherent when we lose trust in ourselves. The former have a sticky, dark and brooding energy, whereas the latter are curious, playful and inquisitive. It’s actually empowering and humbling to know that we will never know everything, and to accept that we can be wrong.

Indeed, as a situation unfolds and we get more information, sometimes we need to rethink our position entirely.

I was reminded of this recently when I misjudged a situation. However open or fair I aspire to be, to quote the Rag N Bone man: I’m only human, after all.

I was in my car, approaching a roundabout in two lanes of slow moving traffic, when the car in the outside lane stopped with its hazard lights on and a woman jumped out.

Assumption number one: she’s broken down .

But then she started to cross the road, leaving her car sitting in traffic with the hazards on. She seemed to be moving very intently towards a house on the street. I watched her incredulously, what was she doing?

Assumption number two: she’s left her car parked in the middle of the road while she goes to knock on someone’s door.

Had my lane of traffic continued to move at this point, I may not have seen what came next, and would have been left with the impression of an inconsiderate person who left her car parked in the middle of the road while she went to call on someone.

But the traffic in my lane remained stationary, and as I looked to the house she was heading for I saw a man’s head appear out of the ground floor window. He reached down towards the ground. Underneath the window I saw a small child, probably around three years old, in floods of tears, just picking herself up off the floor and reaching for the arms of the man, who might have been her father. On seeing the man and realising the child had help, the woman returned to her car.

She had seen what none of the rest of us had: she had seen a small child fall from a window and had stopped her car to go and see to the safety of that child.

Photo by Pixabay on

Faith in humanity restored, and a timely reminder to me not to judge on first, (or second) assumptions.

Sometimes we will be missing a vital piece of the puzzle, sometimes information will continue to present itself, and sometimes there is more than one way to interpret a situation.

There are so many narratives in the world at the moment, it’s worth remembering that often there is no one truth.

Life is full of grey areas, and the journey is much more enjoyable when we’re open to the possibility of being wrong.

What about you? Have you ever misjudged a situation? When was the last time you were wrong about something?

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13 thoughts on “Passing judgement or passing on judgement: when it’s time to take a closer look

  1. I used to only try to see the good in people. Ever since my army days I look for the very worst.

    Life experiences and learning do things to ya.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t imagine what you must have seen in the army and have no doubt that would have a big impact on your perception.

      When I was a Probation Officer (I think they’re called Parole Officer’s in the US), I became a bit jaded…it was hard to look for the good in people when some had done terrible things and so many came back through the doors time & again…but there were always some that never came through the system again & that gave me hope.

      I look for the best because it’s the way I’ve always been. I heard someone say once that they’d rather look for the best in people & be proved wrong a few times than to look for the worst in everyone and that resonates with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said. Once upon a time I assumed people would be truthful and kind because I was. Over the years I’ve become more cynical. I’m usually able to see through a person so that I can walk away from their drama, but lately I’ve been taken a few times. I don’t know if I’m losing my cynical edge– or if they’re better at conning me. 🤷‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ally. I think the years do give us a certain amount of cynicism, but like you said you also gain the skills to be able to spot who to steer clear of (mostly!)

      I’m a firm believer in karma (another reason I try to see the best in people), so cynical edge or not I believe the one doing the conning will get their comeuppance, even if we’re not there to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We see as we believe. If our hearts and minds are positive and optimistic, we view the world in the same light. But many times, life can be hurtful and unjust. This makes us want to hide behind a wall of mistrust and indifference. I think living each day as it comes is the best we can do. Try to be kind. That’s all.
    Great sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Terveen 🙏

      I agree if our kindness is not reciprocated or leads to us getting hurt it can be hard to let our guard down next time, past hurts are hard to untangle and often colour our judgment , but you’re right, all we can do is try.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think the world has gotten more dangerous, I think our perception has shifted. Often in different people’s lives there is a giving up process that goes on, wherein we stop feeling love for life. This affects a whole rainbow of perceptions and emotions, and is one of the reasons we stop being so innocent and in love with things.

    — Catxman

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d have to agree. A part of me wants to deny it’s true because it would feel easier to lay blame at the feet of the world…but every now & again I have fleeting glimpses of childlike joy & I know it’s the barriers I’ve put up over time that’s changed my perspective…working hard to rediscover my inner child! (my own kids help a lot).


  5. I’m also a believer in Karma which helps remove the desire to take revenge if someone has hurt me. If I go for a walk when I’m feeling irritable or agitated about something I chant this mantra over and over to the rhythm of my walking……” I am kind, I am calm, I am happy “. We can only be responsible for our own actions even though I often try to change the actions of those closest to me. I agree about the effectiveness of trying to imagine why someone may have done something wrong…. like driving dangerously or acting crazy… are we to know what is happening in their lives. I try to send them love and light but don’t always manage it without cursing them first. As you say, we’re only human after all !! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like your mantra Mandy, I’m picturing you now keeping your cool as someone cuts you up in traffic (after a reflex profanity 😂) We can never know the reasons behind another persons actions. Of course there will be actions in life which at times we can feel are unforgivable, but this quote from Victor E. Frankl really resonates with me:

      ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’


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