Stepping Back from Judgment
by Jay Fadden
As some of you know, I am a walker. I will put on my headphones, turn on the music, and take off for destinations unknown. There are times I might walk for 5 to 6 hours in a day. It is during those times that I like to reflect and think. I have come to depend upon my walks to help me unwind and think introspectively.
On one such walk, I ended up about five miles from my house at a strip mall. The mall has all kinds of stores including a grocery store, a music store, a phone store, restaurants, and a movie theatre. I end up in that location sometimes because I enjoy the change from the walk in the quiet of the woods to the hustle of the strip mall with all the people scurrying around and me as an observer. On this particular day, I took off my headphones and soaked in the sounds of the scene. The squeaky wheels on the shopping cart pierced the air. Music blared from the record store. People were having conversations as they walked. Cars were speeding past me at much too fast a pace. I just continued to walk and observe. I took it all in, and it was very interesting. It is a typical scene with many nuances that I think we all sometimes miss because we are so busy. It was a hive of activity!
As I was walking, I noticed three teenagers walking towards me, and they were loud! They were calling each other dude, laughing, and they would suddenly stop and raise their hands in the air while feigning shock at a statement one of them had just made. It was impossible for me not to hear their conversation, which seemed nonsensical. I had two quick thoughts. First, that they were really talking about nothing important, and second, that I was for reasons unknown annoyed with them. They breezed by me, as loud as before, and went into the music store, still laughing and bouncing around. They disappeared into the store and it was the last I saw of them. I shook my head, put on my headphones, turned on some music, and started walking out of the strip mall to begin my journey home.
As I said before, I like to reflect as I walk, and I began to think about those three teenagers and my reaction to them. I quickly came to the conclusion that I was a jerk! An oversensitive, judgmental, too-good-for-anyone jerk! I did not know those kids or their backgrounds. I did not know who they were or what trials or tribulations they had experienced in their life. For all I knew, that moment at the strip mall might have been the best part of their entire week and taken them away from a difficult life. They had done nothing wrong and were enjoying each other’s company. They were being teenagers. What seemed unimportant to me may have been very important to them. I had no idea of the circumstances that brought them together. Maybe they were lifelong friends, or maybe one of them was new to the group and this was his opportunity to have something he lacked, friends. The problem that day was not them; it was me. I should have enjoyed the moment instead of judging them and putting restrictions on what they should or should not do. I should have felt happy for their joy. Who was I to judge them?
It was a sobering reality that made me realize that each moment should be celebrated. People should define themselves and not have others put them in a box, which I was doing. My hope is that those three teenagers had a wonderful, fun-filled day and that they have many more together. I know that as a young man, I certainly did, and it formed me into who I am today, for better or worse.