Whenever I am sitting in traffic, on a busy 401 the same thing always happens: I start people-watching. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved making up stories about the people that I see all around me.
I see the giant, shiny black Hummer beside me with an urbanite-esque couple smoking thin cigarettes and I start thinking of how they are probably on their way to some cliquey party where everyone is designer dressed and discussing the hottest new wines. They pay homage to fashion and yet they all lack the subtly of style. The dresses are too short and the cars too flashy. They have the money, but not the manners.
The man in an ill-fitting suit driving a shabby-looking car with stress-lines already carved into his thirty-year old face makes me think of someone desperately holding down an unrewarding job. He has a university degree and graduated middle of his class. He is hard-working and a good man, but he struggles to stand out among his peers. He is waiting for his name to be called.
A stuffed mini-van idles to the right; it’s a family vacation. The father is driving and he’s frustrated by the stop-and-go pace of traffic. The children are bored and starting to bicker. Mom is riding passenger and attempting to engage the children in a game that is potentially fun and sneakily educational at the same time. They have saved for this trip for two years, sacrificing a latte a day for a chance to show their children more of the world around them.
Then there’s the nervous elderly couple on their way to see their son and daughter-in-law’s new home. There is the group of teenagers piled into a twelve-year-old town car blaring music and babbling excitedly about the concert they are going to see. To the left sits a happy young couple, looking relaxed and happy simply to be together. The car behind holds a large woman with a greasy fast food bag that she’s eating out of. In front is a middle-aged man driving a sexy little sportscar. There’s a young punk and his glitzy girlfriend in the tricked-out Civic. The list of clichés goes on.
I see all of these people and wonder about their lives. I wonder if I judge them too harshly or if they are different from what I imagine. Sometimes there is a Christian fish on the back of a Hummer or maybe a graduation photo in a small frame dangling from the rearview mirror of the punk’s Civic. These personal touches make me rethink my often cynical critiques.
I judge based on the vehicle, the clothes, the habits, everything I see and yet nothing that is important. Some days I can be kind and understanding. Other days I am cruel and damning.
However no matter what day it is or how I feel, I use every opportunity I get to try and understand people. Humanity fascinates and disgusts me all at the same time. I often forget that I too am human and that I too am being judged.
Have you ever thought about how everyone else sees you? I have an idea of myself, of who I am, but is my idea of me the same as those around me? How often do you look at someone and see what they want you to see? Judging people, both others and ourselves is how we come to understand our world and ultimately our place in it.
We can never stop judging, but we can all try not to judge too harshly or too quickly.
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