“Before God, we are all equally wise—and equally foolish.”
~ Albert Einstein
Even before she opened her mouth, I judged her.
She wanted train money or drink money or drug money or who knows what money—although she didn’t clarify that specifically, I took it upon myself to manufacture the explanation.
I determined in an instant that she was too clean and therefore undeserving.
Certainly she was just scamming. I’ll only give to the real needy people I told myself. I looked at her white clothes and seemingly fresh appearance and wrote her entire story for her.
The next person, two blocks later, was so dirty I smelled him before I saw him. He didn’t directly ask, instead he just held his cup and rattled the change while staring right at me with that look of desperate desire.
I concluded, unlike her, he was too dirty. Why doesn’t he get a job? I surmised his laziness got him here and so I kept walking, silently insulting him and saying, “Go to work” under my breath, a phrase I’ll admit I’m familiar with.
The third person was in a wheelchair and he had strategically rolled up his pants far enough to show off his fake leg. He wore camouflage and had a sign that explained he’d served for me, so could I please serve him.
I actually did turn back for a moment, considered trying to find all three of them, but with no time and a guilty conscience, I carried on. Before I even realized I’d run out of excuses and vile judgments, I was already a block past and didn’t go back.
As I walked, I assessed the situation: I had $200 in cash in my right pocket. I had only needed about $20.00, but the ATM fee was three bucks, so I figured I’d take enough for a few days to amortize the expense. I’d just finished my $5 coffee, used my iPhone to power my MacBook and briefly considered ordering a car so I didn’t have to wait another 40 minutes for my train.
Moments before encountering the clean woman, I had contemplated buying a new backpack I’d found, it was on sale for $300, which I had in the current bag I was carrying that was an entire month old.
Soon, I encountered the next victim of my judgment—a middle aged woman with a small child. She didn’t ask me for anything because someone who clearly had much less than me was rummaging through her bag to give whatever she had.
I sat down and observed as people passed.
I looked at their faces and their appearance and noted the lack or abundance that our physical appearances often reveal.
I watched how people diverted their eyes, either too ashamed or too distracted to see the need right in front of them.
I sat for a while, judging the people doing what I had literally just done, before I realized the hypocrisy.
I proved mindfulness can be lost in an instant, even after years of practice—even when the bulk of a life is dedicated to treating people with compassion, standing up for human rights and equality.
I’ve written and spoke and spent time with homeless people all over the world. In fact, I once gave a talk and quoted Honore de Balzac saying, “Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact.”
I have quoted John Green at least a hundred times saying, “There is no Them. There are only facets of Us.”
I really do live a life that’s centered around a spiritual practice of non-judgment and self-awareness.
And there I was, terrorizing my fellow humans with my preconceived judgments of worthiness.
If a guy like me who practices compassion and non-judgment in such a serious way, a guy who is absolutely certain that to have we must give can fall into this mind trap so easily, imagine those who have yet to begin the journey?
I bow in gratitude of the awareness of my judgment. It’s the fruition of practice. It’s my salvation.
Me, holding this awareness and re-committing to the path again and again is exactly what those people really needed from me, what they taught me and what the whole world needs from all of us.
Those three people taught me three simple things:
The first step is awareness.
The second step is acceptance.
The third step is action.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Andrea Charpentier/Editor: Travis May
Photos: Pixoto/ Chris Goodwin