Does having a belief or opinion always mean you’re being judgmental? Judgment, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is the ability to make decisions or to make good decisions, or the act of developing an opinion, especially after careful thought. But add an “al” to the end of the word, and the definition changes to tending to form opinions too quickly, especially when disapproving of someone or something.

I think we’ve got a lot of +ALs flying around these days.

It feels like now more than ever, we need to heed Atticus Finch’s words and remember that, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

I have many instances in my life where I’ve realized that I was not a good skin-climber-inner and was thinking I knew what was what—until I learned otherwise. Like the time in college when a friend of mine was driving me somewhere, and as we came to a stop light, she looked in her rearview mirror and did a super flinch. I asked her what the heck that was for, and she told me that ever since she was injured in a come-from-behind car accident, she had that reaction.

In that moment, I must shamefully admit, I did an inner eye roll and thought to myself “drama queen.” I have no idea why I would be so harsh in my mind toward her sharing of her experience, but I was. Young and oh so worldly, right?

 

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And then I got rear-ended in a car accident…more than once. Within a few years after that, I was a passenger in a total of four rear-ending accidents. I then had firsthand understanding of exactly what my friend experienced. I guess God really wanted to drive that point home! (Yes, pun intended.) I now understood from the inside out why my friend reacted the way she did. And none of my accidents were anywhere near as serious as hers.

My own flinching after experiencing minor accidents taught me that I had no right to assess her as being dramatic. None. Whenever I find myself looking in the rearview mirror and having a moment of panic that I may get hit again, I think of her, what I learned about myself and how I needed to knock the AL off.

Another example of my jumping to a judgmental conclusion is yet again set behind the wheel. I guess these experiences are vehicles for change, no? (Yep, that one was intended, too.)

It used to be that when I saw a seemingly fully able-bodied person getting into a car parked in an accessible space, I tsk-tsked and thought that person was abusing the disabled parking placard on their car.

 

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Until I realized firsthand how uninformed this judgment can be. A couple years ago, I needed to get my mom a placard to park in accessible spaces. We use it in my van, as I’m the one who drives her places. This means that there are times I will park in an accessible space and get in or out of my van because I am going to get my mom. Hmmm. So people may be watching me and thinking, “How do you like that? She doesn’t look disabled to me…”

And of course there is the reality that people who need access to those spots don’t have to look like they need them anyway, do they? Because how can we possibly know their story just by observing them getting in or out of a vehicle? Another AL knocked off.

I am grateful to say that smaller-scale lessons like these have helped me grow into a much more gracious grace-giver overall. They have reinforced for me the need to give grace and space and strive to avoid making snap judgments. I’m still guilty of being +AL at times, but I am much better at catching myself and remembering that I don’t know it all. I don’t know the whole story—or even most of the story—so I should really just…shut up. Or better yet—listen up. Listen and learn.

How might our country—our world—be better if we stopped being judgmental and instead truly tried to feel what it must be like for those we feel compelled to judge?

How might we be better off with all that is going on today if we took the effort to make that grace happen just by knowing that we don’t know?

We are not know-it-alls. Not a single one of us. Some of us may know a crazy amount of everything—maybe even be card-carrying Mensa members—but we still don’t know it all. Especially when it comes to the lives and experiences of others.

 

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The first time I visited a land where I was in the minority and wasn’t fluent in the native language, I remember riding on a public bus listening to the unknown words surround me. I had the very clear realization that I now knew what it must be like for someone who comes to America and isn’t fluent in English. It was an experience in empathy, and one I have never forgotten.

Too often we fear what we don’t know—and that accounts for an awful lot of +ALs. When those beliefs or opinions result in “you are less than me” stances, it can make us want to build walls. Wag fingers. Cast blame. Cast out. Deny rights. Condemn. Bully. Shame.

But we can knock off the ALs and make decisions based on careful thought and understanding, can’t we? We can base our views on more than just sound bites or tweets. We can open our eyes, ears, and hearts and learn the world both near and far. We can use empathy, compassion—all that skin-climbing-in—and come to better understand the “differents”…and maybe even relate and connect.

It is my judgment that if we made a greater effort to live an AL-free life, the world would be a better, healthier…and safer place…one –AL at a time.

ALL PHOTOS ARE MY OWN OR USED WITH PERMISSION.
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