“Please stop talking.”
We were about 30 minutes into the five and a half hour flight from Newark to Phoenix, and the woman behind me was on quite a roll. She started talking the moment we took our seats and hadn’t broken stride once — not even to take a breath.
I would’ve been impressed if I hadn’t been so annoyed at my inability to fall asleep. Eventually she’ll wear herself out, I thought, as everyone sitting in her vicinity was subjected to diatribes on everything from the broken education system to her boyfriend’s “awful” mother.
“Any minute now,” I thought, willing her to conk out (even the cranky toddlers had succumbed to sleep by this point).
And then, she took out the big guns, telling a story about the neglectful parents she encountered at the restaurant where she worked. What did these horrible people do, you ask?
“As soon as they sat down,” she preached, “they took out an iPad and gave it to their kid. He just sat and watched it while they ignored him.”
“Ugh, that’s terrible!” said the poor sap who had been drawn into a conversation with her.
“I know! I’m never going to do that with my kids. What kind of parents would do that?!”
The mom in me was so tempted to turn around and enlighten this naïve, childfree person about the world she knew nothing about. But by doing this, I would then engage her in conversation, and risk being trapped for hours.
It just wasn’t worth it.
Besides, before I had children, I was probably guilty of the same judgmental behavior. “Don’t those parents want to spend quality time with their son?” I might’ve thought.
But as a parent of 4-year-old twins, I understand completely. Maybe the boy was cranky, and the only thing that would calm him down was watching Curious George. Maybe the parents wanted to eat a meal without being interrupted every few seconds. Maybe they hadn’t had a real conversation in days, and this was their chance. Who knows, maybe the boy was even playing an educational game.
The point is, unless you’ve been in someone else’s shoes, you have no right to judge them. And even then, is it really necessary?
The answer is no, and yet, we’ve all done it. We’ve all talked about (or at least thought about) how we would’ve handled a situation differently than the person who actually faced it. We’ve all judged the way people lead, the decisions they make, and the things they say and do. We all think we know better; we all think we can do better.
But by casting judgement, we’re doing a disservice — not only to others, but to ourselves. And so, when we feel those thoughts coming on, like “she’s doing it all wrong,” psychologist Barbara Markway says it’s time to take a pause. “Although judgment is a natural instinct, try to catch yourself before you speak, or send that nasty email and do any potential harm,” she wrote. “See if you can understand where the person may be coming from. Try to rephrase your critical internal thought into a positive one, or at least a neutral one. After all, we really don’t know the reasons for someone’s behavior.”
And even if we do, let’s try to exerc