There was a time when I was younger, that I would look at a person and if they seemed unkempt or indifferent to their behavior, if they were rude at the grocery store checkout or rushed through a door in front of me, or even on the road, driving foolishly and seemingly unaware, when I would see such things I would immediately categorize the individual as rude or uncaring or irresponsible. But no longer.
The effects of time and experience, and particularly recent situations of having one loved one battling through an horrific disease without a happy ending and another loved one battling problems with mental health – these have brought me to grasping the real truth, that we do not know what other people are dealing with. Just as I used to prejudge people without knowing them, people have probably looked at me, and at my companions at times, and thought what I used to think. Strangers would not know that I was dealing with the heartbreak of losing a beloved brother, nor would they be aware of the many years of battling severe anxiety and depression that a beloved family member has experienced. We none of us wear signs that say what our hopes and worries of the day are.
And then there are all the other concerns that can turn we humans inward. I have realized that some people I encounter are possibly dealing with financial difficulties, or time constraints for all kinds of reasons. Mothers or fathers may be hurrying home to children or just anxious to get home to feed their family after a day’s work.
I am not naive enough to think that everyone we encounter is dealing with a terrible heartache or a difficult worry; there are, of course, many rude and oblivious folks out here in the world.
But here’s the thing: how do we know which is which? We cannot know. So why not simply give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Now I try, and encourage my family to try to give that benefit of doubt. It costs us nothing, it makes us feel better about our fellow humans, and after all, it gives us the right to ask for that benefit of doubt right back. Because none of us can really know.