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  • Writer's picturePat Birnie

Changing The Way We See People

I'm going to make a little confession here: I have been known to judge some people by their appearance. Not proud of it, but perhaps, maybe I'm not alone here? As we go through life we try to do better don't we, in so many things? The old adage of "don't judge a book by it's cover" holds weight. And yes I am certainly 'older' and have been proven wrong many many times. I would love to share an experience I had over a decade ago that really shook me out of that habit....when I find myself slipping back into it I bring up this memory and bam my faith in humanity is restored.

Setting the stage: I had lost my driver's license for 6 weeks (due to a medical episode, not a driving infraction! See I don't want you judging me:). I had several follow up medical appointments in Hamilton, the next city over. It's normally a 20-25 minute drive. Now, however I needed to walk to a station and take an intercity bus to downtown Hamilton, then walk to the hospital. Hamilton is an interesting city, for those who don't know the area. There are some lovely gentrified neighborhoods, gorgeous Botanical gardens, but also some very rough and seedy areas mostly near the downtown core. It was a chilly, windy March day, definitely not a pleasant time to be standing waiting for my return bus. I stood there watching a lot of interesting characters pass by. Two men approached wearing studded collars, nasty looking neck tattoos, looking pretty rough, cigarettes hanging from their mouths. One was walking a scary looking doberman, of course with a studded collar and heavy chain leash. I probably don't have to tell you what went through my mind. Meanwhile an elderly man started to fumble with his bare hands trying to do up the zipper of his jacket. This whole scene took place over just a few seconds - the first to react was stud guy #1 -- he quickly handed his cigarette and dog leash to his friend saying "here hold these". He bent over and oh so tenderly and gently did the zipper up for the gentleman, pulled the fellow's collar and scarf snugly around his neck and asked if he needed anything else. Well. I was so moved and felt so much shame. Everyone in the crowd look at each other in awe - possibly all in the same boat as me? It was honestly one of the most touching scenes I have ever witnessed. I wished that I had spoken up and complimented him on his kindness, but we don't always think that quickly do we?

When I do find myself slipping into old habits, I remember this story and remind myself that it is not my place to judge. I love to look for the good in people. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I remind myself that I have no idea what's going on in their life. I know for a fact that as a 68 year old, kinda wrinkly, partially grey haired lady, I am seen very differently than I was years ago. We sometimes become invisible, but other times....ready for another story? Earlier this summer were were at a grandson's soccer game. I needed to get some treats from the car for them (classic grandma, I know) and everyone was in a bit of a hurry. So I ran the 5 minutes or so to the parking lot. A mom stopped her car and shouted to me "You're a really good runner, you are amazing!" I smiled and said thanks but thought it was odd. I have been running for 40+ years. What's the big deal? It only struck me hours later that I'm and 'older lady' and maybe it's odd to see me running through the parking lot. I laughed out loud because I truly forgot my age. And I really appreciated that young woman taking a moment to compliment me! I was seen!!

So what's my message? Let's get LESS not MORE crabby and judgy as we age. Make a point of smiling & speaking to people, particularly if they seem to be struggling or having a bad day. Some tips: Stop making comparisons. Start complimenting others & yourself! Remember that not everyone is the same and looking different is not a bad thing -- wouldn't this world be boring if that was the case?

I would SO love to hear your thoughts on this, or any experiences that made you take a second look at your opinions. In fact I'd love to share your stories in a future blog and continue to spread the message!

You know where to reach me. Pat xo


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Nicole MacPherson
Nicole MacPherson
Oct 05, 2023

Oh wow, Pat, that is such a lovely story about the Hamilton men! It actually brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing this, what a great thing to keep in mind.

Pat Birnie
Pat Birnie
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

Thanks Nicole. It really was such a moving experience. I go back to that story often, when i need it!

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