When Seeing is Believing, Take a Closer Look

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a great start.

Now that the weather is a bit nicer, I’ve been trying to get out and take a walk more often. Lunchtime is usually a good time to get away, because it gives me a break from my desk, lets me get a little exercise, and keeps me from gorging on food I really don’t need anyway.

I work downtown, so there are always plenty of places to walk. And there’s never a shortage of people to make the walk interesting. Most simply walk past, give a brief nod, and maybe say hello. Some sit on a bench and look longingly at a world that seems to have passed them by. And then there’s the guy who was chirping like a bird and having a loud verbal argument with himself.

I wish I was making that up, but that’s what I encountered yesterday. Last week it was somebody else, waving his arms and yelling loudly at somebody who wasn’t there. Or, at least from my perspective. Who am I to say there was nobody there, just because I couldn’t see them? In his mind, he was in a full-blown confrontation.

It’s easy to form an opinion on what’s going on with some of these people. Drugs may certainly have been involved, but there are a dozen other possibilities that are much less nefarious. You could be looking at a military veteran who saw things in person that no network would ever allow us to see on TV. You just never know.

Perception is a tricky thing. It’s an important part of quickly assessing a situation in which our safety may rely on our ability to accurately perceive what’s going on. But it’s also a very biased opinion based exclusively on what we’ve experienced and learned to date. We think we know enough to assess the situation, but quite often we’re completely wrong. Worse yet, we may never know.

I remember in high school, walking through a loud and crowded hallway between classes, there was a guy with long stringy hair walking through, seemingly oblivious to everything around him. His head was cocked to one side, his mouth was open and slightly drooling, and he was clapping and snapping his fingers to a beat only he could hear. I was certain he was drugged into oblivion.

A couple of months later, one of my teachers was talking about human miracles and how we can overcome otherwise crippling handicaps to live a normal life. As it turns out, that student wasn’t on drugs. He was blind. He was able, in the middle of a crowded hallway, to listen to the echoes from his claps and snaps to know exactly where he was and what was in front of him.

I remember thinking what a miracle that was, the challenges he had to overcome. Imagine learning the floor plan of a large school so well that you know each doorway and what’s behind it. Water fountains made an entirely different sound, and I’m sure the echo off the lockers was distinct. And he was able to selectively shut out all the background noise to hear only his own echoes.

As I said, sometimes you just never know. It was probably my first big lesson in judging a book by its cover and, nearly fifty years later, I can still see him stumbling through the hallway to get to his next class. I often think about my first impression of him and how incredibly wrong I was. He wasn’t intentionally dulling his senses – he was using them to a level most of us will never achieve.

Every person you encounter presents an image that may or may not be entirely accurate. The young woman who looks like she was out all night partying, but in reality, nobody ever taught her how to apply make-up. The guy who’s nodding off at his desk because he has a severe case of narcolepsy. The overweight person who’s eating candy to ward off insulin shock.

It would be easy to form an opinion based on two or three seconds of observation. And, even when our opinion is accurate, there’s still a lot more we don’t know. Maybe that person is on drugs. But why? What have they experienced in life that’s led them to the choices they’re making today? More importantly, if we’d been in their shoes, would we have responded that much more responsibly?

We’re all very different people, and we all have unique gifts, abilities, troubles, and needs. And we all share this planet together. Instead of crossing the street when I saw a man having a fight with himself, maybe I could have helped talk him through it. Maybe I could have calmed the “other person” down. Who knows?

It’s been said that we should never judge a person unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Until we do, we may never know how hard that walk might be.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2019 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved

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