I was sitting in the hotel lobby with three friends. We had just returned from an early-morning walk, and were enjoying a cup of coffee before packing up, checking out, and heading back to Minnesota. I was facing the front door of the hotel, and absently watching the people who were checking out and leaving.

“They certainly have a lot of luggage for just two people,” I said to my friends, nodding toward a young couple pushing a cart full of suitcases toward the front door. “Oh, never mind,” I said a few seconds later. By then I could see that three kids were waiting for them in front of the hotel. This wasn’t a young couple, but actually a family of five.

“In that case,” I said, “I’d say they’re traveling light.”

“It sure changes your perspective, doesn’t it?” one of my friends said. She was absolutely right.

What occurred to me then is how often and how quickly we make snap judgments about people, things, and situations, based on what we first see or learn about them. On this particular occasion, as I was people-watching while sipping my coffee, it wasn’t any big deal – just a casual observation and comment about strangers passing by. And it was about people I’d likely never see again, and certainly wouldn’t recognize even if I did. But it still demonstrated a trait that I don’t like admitting to.

I consider myself a non-judgmental person, and I try not to jump to conclusions about anyone or anything before getting enough information to make a valid decision. It seems, however, I still have a long way to go.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I suspect we all make quick assumptions based on initial observations. And I’m sure we would often discover, if we took the time to find out, that our initial assumptions were dead wrong.

I’m not sure what I can do to change this tendency in myself, but I’m going to try. Perhaps I can train myself to notice whenever I make a snap judgment – even in casual, inconsequential encounters – and to make a conscious and deliberate effort to consider possibilities other than my initial assumptions. The shabby-looking person walking into the grocery store could be getting ready to purchase food and do some yard work for an elderly relative. The guy crossing the street, with his nose buried in his cell phone, may have just gotten a message with a family member’s medical update. The clumsy or distracted person sitting across from us in the airport could be traveling across the country for a job interview, or to ask his longtime, long-distance girlfriend to marry him.

If I can get in the habit of doing this, it should improve my life and outlook in a number of ways. Not only will it help me to keep from making snap judgments about people, it will also help me assume the best in them, rather than the worst. And I think that would make for a positive change in me, as well.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 11, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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