Have you ever disliked someone because of what they say, the way they look, how they behave or the rumours you've heard about them? We all have preferences about people we want to know or associate with. We are too ready to ditch those who don't fit in with our expectations.
The other day I was in a supermarket choosing some sweet peppers. A middle-aged woman joined me. She picked up bag after bag of peppers and dumped them one on top of the other in frustration. She sighed deeply, turned to me and said: "How many peppers do you want?" What was that to do with her, I thought. "Dunno," I grunted, hoping that the conversation would end there. "I don't want a whole bag of peppers", she announced. Why was she telling me? I put one bag of peppers in my trolley and made to hurry off. But before I could escape she caught me with "Can I buy one off you?" I turned to look at her and she showed me some coins in her hand. "This is all I have. Can I buy one pepper from you?" I felt wretched for having got annoyed earlier. I asked how much more she needed to buy a whole bag of peppers - and gave the money to her. She told me she would use the peppers to cook curry for dinner and how happy her family would be that evening. The smile on her face said it all. It filled me with joy.
It's too easy to judge prematurely. Often we don't bother to find out why others do what they do. Judge them unfavorably and we get irritated, angry, annoyed; judge them favorably and we distort the reality to fit with our preference. Either way, our judgement obscures the mind and moves it from stillness. We judge when people are talking or not talking to us. Or when they simply mind their own business! The judgement is nothing more than what it means to 'me and me alone.' We play judge and jury simultaneously and the sentence we pass on others is seldom just. We become, in effect, biased, narrow-minded and unkind.
How would you respond to a stranger's rude manner? Ignore, walk away, be rude back, or forget about it? I came across such a person recently. After a few days of trying to avoid her, I said something nice to her. And I meant what I said. She told me that she couldn't sleep that night because it had been so long that anyone had said anything nice to her. Not even her family! I discovered that beneath her seemingly abrupt and blunt manner, she was actually kind and often put others' needs first. Who would believe that one little sentence could suddenly change her? Small kind words are like little drops of rain on a desert; they may not quench the thirst but they do refresh the hungry heart. More importantly, similar incidents like this have transformed my perception. They taught me to open my heart to accept others to the way they are, thus allowing their true nature to open up layer by layer to reveal their inner, hidden beauty.
We often judge others while turning a blind eye to our own shortcomings. The price we pay for that is our own peace of mind and the resulting vicious cycle of our prejudice. From a bias, a negative perception is formed, which breeds further negative thoughts and, if continued, can develop into a habit. And that's how some marriages fail miserably! It's because of the habitual negative judgement they hold for each other. We need to look inward and be mindful of these judgements.
Old habits die hard. Practising mindfulness helps to keep you in the present moment rather than dwelling on what he or she did to you. The more mindful you become, the more the judge, the jury and 'me' will subside. It will open your heart to individual differences. It will help you understand, be kind and keep your mind at peace. We should be grateful to those who walk into our lives, challenge our tolerance and remind us to be more mindful, helping us to free our hearts - from prejudice.