At a Subway outlet at Sunset Boulevard, he walked towards the counter where an employee was serving her customer and said:
“Excuse me, excuse me!”
The employee glared at him, and gave him a disgusted look for interrupting her service.
“Oh, how rude!” her customer said, clearly annoyed.
“I’m really sorry,” came the reply. “But I really need to use the restroom.”
“But the door is locked.”
On a nice, sunny day in Flagstaff, Arizona, he was at the top of the hill in his sled, getting ready to slide down the hill. His cousin kept telling him to go, and with great trepidation, he pushed himself down the hill.
He did not realise that he was sliding down the hill towards a young woman who was seated at the foot of the hill. A marshall was signalling him to have him steer his sled away, but it was too late. The marshall evaded collision and he sledded into her.
“I’m sorry, so sorry! I didn’t mean to…” he was apologising profusely.
“You mother f**king dips**t!” she started screaming. More expletives followed.
He felt really bad for causing her so much pain, and though he hates people shouting expletives at others wildly, he thought that he deserved it at that moment.
Based on the first scenario, you would have thought that “he” should have behaved more properly and courteously by not interrupting the Subway employee who was serving her customer. What you did not know was that he was actually in a bus travelling down Sunset Boulevard towards Downtown Los Angeles when he was in a great need to use the toilet, and in great desperation he alighted from the bus and made his way to the toilet at the Subway outlet, only to find that it was locked. Desperate and despaired, he had to interrupt the employee’s service, hoping to obtain the key to unlock the door.
In the second scenario, it seemed that “he” deserved all the verbal abuse that was showered onto him by the woman, after all the pain that he had subjected her to. What you did not know was that it was his first time sledding, and it is quite impossible to control a sled if it is someone’s first time. On top of that, what you did not know was that the young woman had been sitting at the foot of the hill for more than twenty minutes, and she did not have a sled with her. Why she was there for more than twenty minutes was anyone’s guess—she could have moved away from the scene way earlier, because she had no problems communicating with the marshall. In a way, her decision to stay there for such a long time was a disaster waiting to happen, and it could be concluded that it was not entirely his fault that she was in pain.
The main point that can be drawn from the two scenarios above is that human beings are quick to judge others. In the Subway scenario, the customer was not hesitant in proclaiming his judgement that somebody else was being rude just because his service was being interrupted. In the Flagstaff scenario, the young woman was quick to judge that she was the victim, purely as a result an action by somebody else, when someone else collided into her.
In many cases, we subconsciously judge others by the way they behave and speak, without even giving them the opportunity to explain themselves. Being too quick in judging others seems to be our nature, but is this a trait that we should be proud of? Or is it a trait that can potentially embarrass us only?
A friend of mine at Durham University once discussed about the issue of people being too quick to judge, or passing premature judgements. Based on my understanding of his discussion, he finds that this sickening trait is one of the reasons why people are slow to progress, and why people can never truly be open-minded, because before one can defend themselves adequately, we would have formed judgements that are often negative in nature. We seem to take pleasure in thinking bad about other people and dig out scraps that could make “excellent gossip material”. However, how often would you take a step back to evaluate whether you are right about your judgements?
Just recently, I was having dinner with my relatives when a man walked towards our table. The first thing that struck my mind was, “Oh, no. What does this man want now? He can’t be begging for alms, right?” However, the man actually wanted to ask where we had purchased the spareribs that my uncle was having. You see, even I am not exempted from being too quick to judge others, as much as I am ashamed to admit it.
It makes me wonder why we pass premature judgements so easily without even realising it. I can only think of one plausible reason: when we encounter a bad experience, we pass premature judgements because we are reminded of a similar experience, one that has happened before. We then think to ourselves “Hey, it’s déjà vu, isn’t it? That guy could be a crook. Whatever that is coming next can’t be anything good.” But we could be wrong, and when are, we find ourselves feeling embarrassed that we thought of others so poorly, and the possibility of people having a poor impression of us looms.
Therefore, why are we so quick to judge others? A friend of mine at Texas Tech University, who is pursuing her doctoral studies in psychology, once told me that there are reasons why we possess certain traits and why these traits differ according to gender, too. The traits that we possess can be explained by understanding how they would be useful if we were living some thousands of years ago when human beings lived primitively. Using the same logic, I tried to see whether passing premature judgement could have been an important trait to ensure the survival of our species. Unfortunately, I found no answer to that.
However, to my friend, all this could be explained from a psychological point of view. Being quick to judge others seems to be a natural trait. Thousands of years ago when human beings were still living in an extremely simple manner, the premature judgements that early human beings used to pass happened to be quite accurate. In those days, “they are indeed what you see and think.” But over the years, human beings have become increasingly complex, and these premature judgements have become more and more unreliable.
The fact that I thought poorly of the man who came over to my table to ask where we got the spareribs is perhaps the best psychological connection between the “contemporary man” and the “primitive man”. It is psychologically established that whenever another unknown person approaches you, it is considered an aggressive behaviour, more so if that unknown person is a man. It is only natural that you will be in a defensive state of mind, and passing that negative judgement is part of that defence mechanism (perhaps to prepare yourself mentally and physically of the possibility that something bad might happen). But in today’s society where the human thought is so complex, allowing our premature judgements to control our behaviour could suppress the warmth that we are encouraged to show others.
Therefore, in the end, is being quick to judge others a trait that we should keep? For a society to develop and progress, I am of the opinion that we should rid ourselves of that trait. It is so much easier than done—that is true, but being quick in judging others bring us no real benefit today; there is the “feel-good factor” in being quick to judge others where our premature judgements may be confirmed true eventually, but we are essentially playing a game of chance. On the other hand, if our judgements are proven wrong, then we are in for a round of self-humiliation. Still, to not pass premature judgements against another individual is a very high-level trait that requires lots of concerted effort, and the fact remains that not many can achieve such a trait.
Judges who sit in courts of law have the arduous task of not mentally passing premature judgements against any party. It is important that they hear the cases presented by both the plaintiffs and the defendants before they can even form any judgement. Likewise, for us to be seen as a society that is comprised of individuals with high levels of wisdom and fairness, let us not be too quick to judge others; perhaps this ought to be your new year’s resolution.
P/S: I did not mention who “he” was in the Subway and Flagstaff scenarios, but that was actually me. How many of you have already perceived that “he” is actually me, without my divulging “his” identity in the first place?
Henry Yew is a civil engineering postgraduate student at Texas Tech University. He finds psychological discussions to be very insightful and fascinating. He wishes to acknowledge and thank his friend Eevie, a doctoral student of psychology at Texas Tech, for some of the most interesting points on human behaviour.