Before I had Theo I was always amazed when I saw someone out shopping with their kid at nine o'clock at night. I mean, don't kids go to be early? That's what all the books recommend, or so I was sure. And if those kids started acting up I was convinced it was because of poor parenting choices which led to them being over-tired when they should clearly be home snug in their cribs. So I judged.
In high school, after I got my brand new Honda Civic (may he RIP), I would drive around with teenager self righteousness and my head held high. My sweet ride was clean and new. I had the means to take care of it. Then I'd see cars with dents or loose bumpers, a crack in the windshield or rust on the door and think, "Why do they drive AROUND like that? Just get the car fixed and stop being so LAAAAZY." So I judged.
When I worked at an animal shelter right after we got married I saw pets who were given up by families all the time. The most common reason was baby related, such as "The baby has allergies" or "The dog is aggressive towards the baby and won't calm down." Cats were given up because of litter box issues. And no matter what, every single time I had to meet with someone who choked out one of these excuses I was burning with rage. Caring for a pet is a commitment! How could they just THROW AWAY a member of the family? So I judged.
It's hard not to judge people, let's be honest. To form a snap judgment and size them up with your own certainty. Hold them to your stereotype. But I sit here today a totally different person and honestly know and believe that people are just doing the best they can. Granted, there are always exceptions to this rule. But overall I know that especially in today's economy everyone is just trying to make it through. Make it through the day, the week, until the next check comes in. Decisions are made for the better but may not always be easy.
How am I to know that the mother in the grocery store isn't a single parent, just worked a twelve hour shift and had to bring her baby out in order to get food? That she truly WANTED her baby to be home and sleeping but the food was a necessity and she had to do what she had to do?
What if that person with the busted up tail light and dent in the trunk can't afford to pay his insurance deductible in order to get it fixed? That he would much rather continue to pay his rent and have a place to live then make sure his car is aesthetically pleasing? His car gets him to and from work, is able to pick up and drop off the kids at school, and gets him to church on Sundays. That money is better served for necessities rather than giving it to the guy at the repair shop. He may not like it, but he had to choose.
When a woman came to me choked up about surrendering her dog, how did I know this wasn't the hardest decision she'd ever had to make? What if she tried allergists, medication, special bath products? Or looked into ripping up all of her carpet in order to put down hard wood floors and that still wouldn't have made a difference? As much as she hated the situation, her child comes first. And her hope, if I assume the best, was that her dog would find a loving home as opposed to being put to sleep in a cold exam room, alone and confused.
Sadly, sometimes it's not until I find myself in a situation that I am able to empathize and then truly understand where people are coming from. I hear so many stories of people being hit by this economy and uncertain job market that makes them reevaluate their priorities. Myself included. Because of this, I work to assume that people are doing their best. Might this be a sweeping generalization? Sure. But I'd rather start by assuming the best, than assume the worst and be wrong about someone else's story.