Never Judge Someone Until You’ve Walked a Mile In Their Shoes

Imagine the situation:

You’re in a subway car and people are sitting quietly - some reading their newspapers, some lost in thought, while others are resting with their eyes closed. It is a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children enter the subway car. The children are so loud that instantly, the whole climate changes.

Despite that, the man sits down next to you and closes his eyes, apparently unconcerned by the situation. The children are yelling back and forth, throwing things around, and even grabbing people's papers.

It is a very, very disturbing scene. And yet, the man sitting next to you does nothing.

It's difficult not to feel irritated. You can’t believe that he can be so ignorant to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.

In fact, it's easy to see that everyone else on the subway is feeling irritated too.

So finally, with what feels like an unusual patience and restraint, you turn to him and say, "Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?"

The man lifts his head up as if to come to an awareness of the situation for the first time and says softly, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either."

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Pause here for a moment and try to imagine how would you feel in that situation.

You’ll probably start to see things differently, feel differently, and your attitude towards this man will probably shift dramatically.

Those feelings of irritation will turn into feelings of empathy and compassion because now, your heart is filled with the man’s pain.

You may even ask him, “Can you tell me more about it? Is there anything I can do to help?" In other words, everything changed in an instant.

The late Stephen Covey calls this experience a paradigm shift. In fact, this is a real experience that happened to him, which he retells in his remarkable book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I decided to share it with you today because I believe we can all relate to it.

And even though Stephen Covey used this story to demonstrate the power of a paradigm shift, I’d like to go to the core of it and talk about how we can bring humanity back into our lives.

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The Fundamental Attribution Error

I believe that so many times we make the mistake of judging others too quickly.

No wonder!​

In social psychology, there’s a powerful cognitive bias that’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error. This bias says that we tend to judge the person for their behavior, not the context or the situation that may have influenced their behavior.

For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, you say that "He’s a jerk!" A friend didn’t return your call – "He’s an asshole!" Someone has been rude to you – "How dare you?!" Someone you care about ignored you – "Who do you think you are?!"

In other words, you blame the person – their character or their personality – but you fail to take into account the situational factors of that behavior.

But let’s reverse the situation for a moment.

What happens when you are rude to people? When you behave like a jerk? When you cut someone off in traffic? When you don’t return the calls? When you have a bad day? When you’re in a bad mood? What happens then?

You probably say: "Oh, you don’t understand what I’m going through..." "You don’t understand my situation." "I really had a bad day today!" Or, “How dare you judge me if you don’t know what happened to me?”

THERE IT IS! In other words, when the same stuff happens to us, we always have a good reason to explain our behavior. But guess what? So do others.

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How to Be Human Again

In her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, the American authoress Harper Lee said, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The truth is we never really know someone's story. Usually, we have only scrapes of information, and then we use these small, little pieces of information to build our own story and as a result, we jump to conclusions too fast.

But there's a better way: When you feel the pressure rising, instead of jumping to conclusions and judging the person immediately, try to take a step back and ask yourself, “I wonder what happened that led to this behavior? What if there's something that I don't know about this situation?”

Maybe the man is rushing to the hospital because his wife in the backseat is about to give birth to a child. Maybe they're about to miss their plane. Maybe they’re going through some tough times. Maybe they’re just having a bad day. Or maybe they’re in a bad mood.

There are virtually endless possibilities, but how many times do we take that into account?

And look, I know that I'm preaching to the choir. I know that you know these things. But we also know that what's common sense is not that common anymore.

So I guess what I'm trying to suggest is that there’s enough hatred, anger, and envy in the world right now. We don’t need more negativity to fill our minds, hearts and souls with.

And by the way, I’m not talking about “positive thinking” here. For goodness sake, there are too many self-help "gurus" out there who trick you into believing that we’re living in some 'La-La' Land, where everyone is positive and the Unicorns are flying around.

No, forget all of that.

You and I both know that this is not how life works out. We do have bad days. We do have challenges and hardships. We do have ups and downs. We all go through the same life experiences. That's the reality of life.

And once you recognize that and are aware of that, my invitation is this: Let’s be human again!

I use the word "again" intentionally because it feels like we've lost this ability nowadays. This is a lesson who's time has come and I believe we need to remind ourselves of this message today more than ever before. 

Let’s be more empathetic and compassionate toward each other. Let’s listen more to each other. Let’s help each other out. Let’s detach ourselves from this constant need to prove that we are right and others are wrong. That we are good and others are bad.

Remember: There’s no right or wrong, good or bad. It’s your thinking that makes it so. And again, I'm not saying that it's going to be easy. But I believe that it's going to be worth it. 

So please, let go of the need to put others in their place, and try to put yourself in their place. Ultimately, that’s the path to humanity, joy, peace, and love.

Let go of the need to put others in their place, and try to put yourself in their place. Ultimately, that’s the path to humanity, joy, peace, and love.

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Daniel Cerescu

I'm Daniel Cerescu, and I'm the guy behind this blog. Even though most of the material on this website is free, I aim to make this free content better than anyone else’s paid stuff. My mission is to inspire and empower those who refuse to settle for anything less than an extraordinary life to live with passion, lead with purpose, and make their mark on the world.