UpFront 05/19

We never really know what people are thinking. We might believe we do, but in reality, the complexities of the brain and the human ability to distort embellish or even completely invent thoughts and scenarios make it impossible for us to ever categorically know what’s going on in someone’s head. But that doesn’t stop us from passing judgment; both on those we know as well as on complete strangers. I got stuck in a lift once with someone whom I’d seen around for years but had never really met. We were only held there for about ten minutes, but it was enough time for our shared discomfort and concern to break down the usual barriers suffered by the less gregarious. We talked about the fact that we had seen each other around but never really chatted. Within those few minutes, we found that we had a lot in common. We shared a similar sense of humour, world view and even upbringing. By the time we got out of the lift we were giggling about our adventure, and, since we were heading in the same direction, decided to pop into the local pub for a drink. It was then that we discovered one of the reasons we had never spoken. For the previous couple of years, he had made a decision about me based on something he had heard. It transpired that at a company event years before, someone had pointed in my direction and commented on what they believed was my opinion on a recent international crisis. Their judgement couldn’t have been further from the truth, but to my new friend, that accusation had left a lasting impression. For the next couple of years, his attitude to me had been influenced by this throwaway comment. Coincidentally my accuser was in the pub and remembered the occasion. It turned out he had been pointing at someone just beyond me. I had been smeared by mistaken identity. My new friend and I never became great buddies, and a few months later I got a job overseas. In fact, I never saw him again. But that quirk of fate that put us together in a dodgy elevator often haunts me when I find myself about to pass judgment on a person or situation, especially when based on no real knowledge, something perhaps we’re all guilty of. Sadly, we are all human, with all the fallibility that comes with that territory and there will always be occasions where an opinion is blurted out based on nothing other than instinct and unconscious bias. But now and then I find myself benefiting from remembering that scenario and taking a step back before damning my fellow man. I wish I could do it more often.