For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking about writing a post on judging people. I am very active online and I continuously see posts where experts – actual and self-proclaimed– judge, question and make absolute and rigid statements on the rest of the world around them.
I have to be honest, it really annoys me. But because I firmly believe that everyone is free to post and use their social media the way they want – it’s theirs after all– I’ve held my horses.
Until a few weeks ago when I realized I am also guilty of judging and criticizing based on what I think I see.
We live in a great city, a city full of growth, development and opportunities. But like any other city, not everyone is thriving. We have people that live on the streets, yes, even beautiful Vancouver has homeless people. In Vancouver, most of them gather in the same area, it’s called the Vancouver Downtown East Side (DTES). If you do some research online you will find hundreds of articles, opinions and plans for the DTES. But that’s not the main topic of this post.
One Saturday afternoon of this past August, a friend posted a call out for volunteers to serve lunch in Feed the Hungry (now called Peace Meal), a program that serves lunch once a month to homeless in the DTES. They said young people were welcomed so I signed us up for the late Sunday shift.
When I explained to my son the area where we would be, he said he was a bit scared but agreed to do it. The boys (we had a cousin only 6 months older than my son visiting) decided to volunteer in the kitchen plating the meals and I chose to be a server.
The experience was so humbling. Almost everyone was very kind and thankful. They would all say thank you, most of them would look me in the eyes, and many complimented the food and thanked us for our time. Some went even further and told me how hungry they were and how good this meal would be for them. I saw all of them pack up some of the food for later or for somebody else. Everyone was very respectful, they would sit and wait for their turn, many of them engaged in conversation with us or with other people having lunch and a handful had their pets and they (the pets) also were very well-behaved.
I left feeling content but overwhelmed. I felt once again blessed not only for the material things that I have access to, but for the family and friends that have emotionally supported me in times when life threw me curve balls and when the mere act of waking up felt like a burden. I had and continue to have a tribe of people that support me when I am down, when I need an extra hand. Don’t get me wrong, my life has been full of great things and people, I have no mental health issues, I am educated and have a body that albeit achy sometimes, serves me more than well. But seeing how lonely and avid for connections many of these people were made me realize how important it is to have loving arms and ears when we feel that we cannot make it on our own, regardless of the reason.
I was disappointed with myself. I was too guilty of judging. Yes, whenever I would drive by the DTES I would give them a cold shoulder, I would say that the mental health issues that many face are not excuse for the poor and terrible choices that landed most of them on the streets, I would state without room for error that they were all dangerous, uneducated and probably a threat to everyone around them. I would avoid the area, I would pull up my windows and use it as a teaching moment for my son. Without even knowing it, I had also sat on my high horse judging those that were not sitting by my side. I did not give them the benefit of the doubt, I thought I had it all figured it out about each of them, about their past, their present and their future. As it turns out, I was wrong. Each of those people living on the streets are unique. If you are brave enough to challenge your convenient ideas and look further, if you look at them as human beings and are open to embrace who they are, you will undoubtedly see that we are all the same: human beings longing for acceptance and connection, a kind word and a judgment-free area.
So I pledge that the next time I feel like judging someone, I would take a deep breath and think about the person I am about to judge, I will try hard not to get stuck in their past decisions and would try my best to only look at who they are today. I would ask myself: what do they need? what do they want? how can I help? What can I learn from them? I would work at making a connection from one human being to another human being. Want to join me?