One morning, I made some snap judgments on a crowded subway train.
To get on, I had to squeeze in. Everyone was pressed against each other. I was thankful it was winter and everyone had the buffer of their jackets. I was relieved I had a short ride to my appointment and felt lucky not to have experienced this commute daily.
Then, just before the doors closed, a group of four teenage girls pushed themselves in, squashing us even further. Some riders groaned. Most were resigned to making some room for them.
As the train began to move, our bodies jerked forward then back. Even in a packed car, there was space to fall. I reached forward to grab the closest pole, lodging my arm between a short woman’s face and a tall man’s back.
The man, however, repeated to lean back and push against my elbow. It started to hurt and my thoughts began to race:
“Doesn’t he realize the train is crowded? Why does he keep pushing?“
“Does he want me to fall?”
“Why is he being so selfish? He doesn’t own this space!”
Growing more annoyed, I wanted to say something. But since his back was against me, I turned instead to the woman next to me and apologized that my arm was so close to her face.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t want to fall over,” I said.
I, of course, was not apologizing out of remorse. Rather, I wanted to let the man know, in a passive-aggressive way, that I was inconveniently placing my arm for a good reason.
At the next stop, as riders shuffled out, everyone shifted places. Both the tall man and I were able to move further into the train.
That is when I saw the baby in a stroller that had been both in front of and somewhat under him.
A sudden realization
I had unfairly assessed this man’s character based on incomplete information. And, these false assumptions made me miserable.
He wasn’t trying to hurt me or create more space for himself; he was trying to balance his upper body and avoid falling on top of the baby. While the crowd had pushed him forward, he couldn’t move his feet. He had to hover awkwardly over the child, so as not to crush her!
This episode bugged me for the rest of the day:
- Why did I assume a worst-case scenario?
- How often do I make snap judgments without a clear or full picture?
Good questions to ask yourself
Rather than allow our minds to automatically work themselves into a stress-filled frenzy, we can actively retrain our brains. We can ask ourselves questions, like:
- What else could be going on here?
- What other motives could be at play?
- How might this have nothing to do with me?
- How could I be contributing to the problem?
- What’s really at stake?
Yet, there will be times we just get it wrong. There will also be times when people will misunderstand us.
In some ways, we’re fortunate when we get to see we’ve made a mistake. We can learn from it. And, if we’re lucky, we get a chance to fix them.
Please check out more good questions to ask yourself.