I had a beach day with a few people earlier this summer and something happened that has been on my mind ever since. I want to talk to you about it because it is so relevant and so important. My hope is that it makes a difference in how you go about your days and how you view the world around you. It doesn’t matter if you are seven or seventy, teachable moments are all around us if we are open to looking for them. So, here goes…
It was a quiet beach day, the kind where voices carry and you can get a glimpse into the lives of those around you. My girls and I were sitting with our crew and off in the not-too-far distance was a man and a young girl who appeared to be about 5-6 years old (one could assume that they were father/daughter, but I make a conscious effort not to assume). I didn’t notice them until the girl ran down to the water. I looked away for a few minutes because I was either talking or reading, but before I broke my gaze I noticed that the man was unpacking the car and setting up near a picnic table about 30 yards from the water. I initially didn’t think much of these completely innocuous details, since this was just an average beach day and not a crime scene.
Then a member of my party—let’s call this person by the androgynous name, Pat, to protect their identity— says, “Oh look, the girl just lost her ball.” So, I looked. The tide was going out and the big, red ball was whisked away at a surprisingly rapid pace. The girl pointed to the ball, and then noticing that the man was still setting up shop for their beach day and not seeing the scenario play out, began running over to him to share her plight and perhaps ask for help (I really have no idea what she said, none of us do). The man said something in return and went back to unpacking and the girl went back to playing by the water. There were no hysterics, no tantrums, no freak-outs of any kind. The girl seemed to accept what was in that moment—the fact she lost her ball—and she went right back to enjoying her day.
At least, that is what *I* saw with my two eyes and my Spidey-senses.
Pat must have seen (or felt) something entirely different because Pat suddenly yelled, “What an asshole!” Trust me when I say that the word asshole lingered in the wind before doing a little dance and making it’s way down the beach and I could feel myself starting to get pretty uncomfortable. (*Remember, my kids are with us.)
All I could muster was “Huh?!” I guess I was simultaneously curious as to whether or not I missed something and also incredulous as to where this outburst came from. I like to hold space for people to engage me in meaningful and authentic conversation, but this was neither and I was taken aback. I tend to shut down in moments like that.
Pat responded with a haughty rant, “That guy is an asshole. His daughter lost her ball and he won’t even get up from what he is doing to help her! He’s a real jerrrkkkkk.”
My only response, because how do you respond to something like that, was, “I don’t really think it’s fair to judge like that.” I said a silent prayer that my kids heard my response and tucked duplicate copies of this whole scenario away in their mental files of What Not To Do (Pat) and How To Respond To A Situation Like This (Me).
Can we rewind and dissect Pat’s statement for a second?
- “That guy is an asshole.” (assumption)
- “His daughter (assumption; he could be a brother, uncle, nanny, family friend, guardian, etc) lost her ball (probably pretty factual) and he won’t even get up from what he is doing to help her!” (it appears that way, but we do not know WHY)
- “He’s a real jerrrkkkkk.” (Assumption! And, in this kind of scenario, what gives you the right to label someone in that way?)”
It’s pretty incredible that two people, witnessing the same event, can have such opposite reactions, isn’t it? But it happens ALL THE TIME. It happens at home, at work, on social media, and in person. We are wired differently and, if we are not careful, we let all of our past experiences (and how we handled them) be an indicator as to how we respond in the future.
My main point in all of this is that we have become so conditioned to making a snap judgment with NO FACTS. And, the other thing I am noticing in society is that we are clamoring for attention and have such a desire to be heard above the noise, that we often make the very detrimental mistake of believing that our opinions have some factual representation. And then we impulsively share those opinions as facts and that is where things get dangerous.
We are operating on the Glimpse Mentality. We get little soundbites and snippets of something—whether it be in our newsfeeds, while driving, or on the radio—and we form a very strong opinion with no further observing, research, or thought. We don’t go any deeper than what we are spoon fed and a vast majority of time a vast majority of people don’t even know WHY they are responding the way they are…it’s just all rote, ego, and impulse.
In fairness to Pat, there was probably a trigger that was the catalyst for the strong reaction. I didn’t ask, but it could be something for the Pats of the world to think about in scenarios like this. Did this event trigger a childhood beach trauma? Was Pat’s father unresponsive throughout childhood and a daddy issue was triggered? Does Pat have a core belief around parenting and anyone who doesn’t fall within those parameters is an asshole? All triggers aside—at the beach that day, Pat saw a snippet of this man and girl and made what could be viewed as a very dangerous and largely inaccurate assumption. BECAUSE PAT DID NOT GET TO SEE THE BEFORES OR THE AFTERS! Fact: There was a man with a girl whose ball drifted away. Fact: He did not go get the ball. The rest is speculation, at best, because we have absolutely no idea WHY! Maybe he didn’t know how to swim or was deathly afraid of the water. Maybe he had sutures that he couldn’t get wet. Maybe he was recovering from injury. Maybe they had a discussion ahead of time where he told her not to put the ball in the water, and if she did she would have to accept the consequences. Maybe they had a plan all along to watch the ball float away and see how long it would take. Maybe, like releasing balloons, it was a way to honor a loved one who passed away. We have no idea! And it is frightening to me that not only are there are countless Pats in this world who think nothing of unfairly labeling people as assholes, misfits, Muslims, sluts, bitches, losers, etc, but there are people who will in turn take that information and run with it. That is how lives get ruined, reputations get irreparably damaged, self-esteem gets squashed, and we perpetuate lies that have no basis in factual representation.
For you visual learners, this behavior looks a bit like this:
If we look through this lens, we see a girl at the beach. We might be tempted to make conclusions based on this photo (like, she is looking at a cell phone), but we have very little else to go on. (she was actually looking at a shell)
But, if we only make our hard and fast conclusions based on this alone, we would have missed out on some key facts as they related to this moment in time. For instance, there were a group of sea gulls fighting over food just to the left of the girl.
And, then you might be tempted to laser focus in on the seagulls, which would prevent you from noticing that I was sunbathing just behind that area and the girl on the beach.
And then, once you set your sights on me, you might be temped to make conclusions on me based on my appearance and demeanor in that moment. You might judge my hair, or my bathing suit, or how I look in my bathing suit, or the creases in my forehead. You might label me as lazy and uncaring because I am not playing with my children. But, that is merely a glimpse and your data would be inconclusive because you have no idea how I was feeling in that moment (or the moments proceeding) and you have no data to support your “conclusion” of my relationship with my children. That moment: finite. My relationship with my children: infinite and layered and complex and evolving.
And, while you were busy honing in on that, you would have missed that there was a lifeguard protecting the water and people swimming and even more people walking by. And, you might be tempted to say it was cold that day because the lifeguard is wearing a sweatshirt. But, that is not true. He simply was protecting his skin from the sun. And, you wouldn’t know that because you either weren’t there OR because you were too busy looking at a macro sliver of this beach day and not seeing it in its entirety.
Is this making more sense now?
This whole scenario got me thinking: How many times have I been unfairly judged about how I parent my children? How many times have I been labeled based on how I am showing up in one specific moment in time? How often will my girls get judged based on their appearance? And, more importantly, how many times have *I* unfairly judged a person or a situation. The answer is: too many. And it’s not okay. You guys, we are making these massive, sweeping, macro generalizations over so, so many things that we are seeing through a micro lens and judging with our limited capacity for understanding. Let’s strive for greater awareness and understanding instead of just sitting on the sidelines with our cell phones and our snap judgments.
Please, please, PLEASE! Stop. Just stop doing this kind of thing! Stop doing it in your personal life. Stop doing it in your professional life. Stop doing it around your children and other people’s children. Stop doing it with things you have no idea about. Stop doing it on social media and in coffee shops and in your text messages. Because when you act this way, you are hurting yourself and the people around you. Once you say something or put it out on the interwebs, you can’t take it back. You can apologize for it, or try in vain to justify it. Just like toothpaste from a toothpaste tube, once it is out there you ain’t getting it back in. And then, an unintended consequence of your actions is that you are probably going to be the one looking like an asshole.
When it comes to the innocuous, probably the best advice I can give you before I sign off today is:
With so much love,