Updated: Feb 1
prej·u·dice / preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience:
I wrote this in 2019 when I was 27. It details a brief yet profound encounter that I had while waiting between appointments at the hospital. It exposes some of my uglier thoughts about another person. I am certainly not proud of the places my mind goes sometimes, but I think the lesson is that our thoughts have real implications, so we should pay attention and tend to them. The things we think affect our outward lives and the way we show up in the world. I have grown as a person since 2019, and while ugly, unnecessary thoughts about other people may still populate my mind, I am quick to recognize and amend them. This is important. After experiencing all the ugliness of the past few years, witnessing the pain and violence brought about by unfounded hate for certain groups of people by other groups of people, my mindset and how I perceive others has resolutely shifted — now my first response is almost always to extend kindness and understanding to others. (I say "almost" because I'm not perfect.) We are all doing our best with the tools we have available to us. And, as is often said, we're all going through things. Let us be gentler with ourselves and kinder towards others — even, and perhaps especially, in our thoughts. Here goes—
I am often surprised at my own ability to judge quickly. I am sitting here in one of the hallways lobbies at the hospital, working on my laptop. I’m here because I had to do testing at the pulmonary lab, and I decided to hang out until I go to a meeting I have downtown tonight. My hair is in a ponytail, I have makeup on, I’m wearing all black, and I have a medical mask on to protect my lungs.
Being that I’m sitting in a main corridor right by the Roasterie coffee stand, lots of people pass by, and some stop at the coffee stand for a caffeinated pick-me-up. Thirty minutes or so ago I noticed a woman in line for coffee. She ordered a black coffee in her raspy voice, trying to stifle her dry cough as she stood in line. Like me, she was wearing a mask, but she looked a lot different than I do. She was top-heavy with very skinny legs and a large midsection. Her face looked swollen and red, her skin blotchy and dull. She was wearing house slippers and had her thin blonde hair in a messy ponytail. I noticed that the section of her hair closest to her neck was super short, like it was so dry and brittle that it had broken off from being pulled tight too many times.
My mind immediately labeled her as “trashy” and “smoker”. Without knowing this woman nor ever having spoken to her, I determined it to be her fault that she had a cough and was hospitalized. I decided that her cough was due to years of smoking. I mentally dismissed her and subconsciously thought of her as ‘less than’. Less deserving, unequal, inadequate, different than me.
In fact, she is different than I am. She did not judge me harshly.
In fact, she is different than I am. She did not judge me harshly. As she sat at the table next to me, she noticed me, too. I forgot about her as soon as she was out of my line of sight, but there she sat, not 10 feet from my table. As she got up to leave, she said to me, “You must be a doctor on a break.” My first reaction was annoyance. Why is this woman talking to me? And what a dumb thing to say. My response was clipped. “No, I’m just a patient”. She chuckled. I softened, self-aware. “I appreciate you thinking that, though", I said, "Most people think I look like I’m 12.” She laughed again and said, “Very pretty. You’re very pretty.” I forced my eyes from my computer to smile at her, the only part of my smile visible was whatever made it to my eyes.
What made her think I’m pretty? Half my face is covered by my blue mask, my clothes are not pretty or flashy, and my long hair is pulled back into a ponytail swept to the opposite side of her view. As for what led her to think I might be a doctor? I’m typing on my black laptop, I have my phone and my YETI water bottle next to me, I'm wearing a black zip-up jacket, and I have a medical mask on. If I were looking at myself, I would not have seen a doctor. I would have seen a lazily-dressed patient who doesn’t look 27. But observations are in the eye of the beholder, aren’t they?
Today’s encounter instantly reminded me to be kinder, especially in my thoughts. To be kinder in the way that I think about myself and in the way I perceive other people. Today I exemplified the exact thing I say I stand against, the thing that I think is proliferating hate and prejudice in our country: passing judgment on people with no knowledge of them or their situation whatsoever, only my preconceived notions in my head. This is a dangerous practice, and I am very thankful for that woman who showed me kindness today.