Misunderstandings and jumping to judgement

The other day I was driving somewhere and getting ready to turn left. I put on my blinker, but the car behind me kept riding my tail. I hit the break and began slowing down to turn, and the car behind me angrily honked at me. I made my turn but felt really angry. I had put on my blinker for crying out loud! What kind of jerk rides someone’s tail after they put on their blinker and then has the nerve to honk when they start slowing down?

The next day I realized my left blinker was out. The car behind me had had no idea I was going to turn, and the driver probably hit his horn while thinking what kind of jerk slows down and turns in busy traffic without using a turn signal?

I had been legitimately upset (I thought I had my blinker on). The driver of the other car had been legitimately upset (he thought I had willfully neglected to use my blinker). But the entire situation was based on a misunderstanding. How often does this happen in our daily lives, I wonder? 

As another example, I recently saw a gas station with a sign advertising gas for $3.69. This was twenty cents better than anywhere else in town, so I stopped to gas up. When I looked at my receipt, I realized I had been charged $3.89 per gallon. I looked at the display on the pump itself and saw the same price: $3.89. I was really angry. The large display visible from the road had been wrong, and I felt cheated out of 20 cents for each gallon I’d pumped. And then I realized something. The large display sign was digital. Upon closer inspection, one of the bars was defective. It was supposed to say $3.89 the whole time.

Then, the other day I was out on my bike with my daughter when I realized I had left her bike helmet at home. I had my helmet on, but her head was bare. As I biked home I wondered if people were looking at us and thinking what an irresponsible mother I was, wearing a helmet myself while letting my daughter go without. I wanted someway to tell the people I passed that this was the first time this had happened.

Similarly, I was out on a walk with my daughter a few weeks ago and even though it was cold and she was wearing a short sleeved shirt she said she didn’t want her coat. I carried her coat as I pushed her in the stroller, hoping that people weren’t looking and wondering what kind of mother would let her daughter go without a coat in that weather. No really, she says she doesn’t want a coat, I wanted to say to everyone I passed on our walk.

I suppose all of this has just served to remind me how important it is not to hastily jump to conclusions and judge others. It’s a lesson I will try to remember.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Meghan

    Like yesterday when I had to go to the grocery store, myself sick and my toddler sick. Lots of people glared because she was crying and whining. I had to get some easy to eat food and pickup some medicience for her. Sorry but I didn’t have a choice, husband is traveling for job, and we live far away from other family. I wish people were more understanding, if you have time to glare and whisper could you offer to help because I’m about ready to pass out.

  • Dawn

    “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realize how seldom they do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    One of my favorite quotes and something I work hard to keep in mind. My son is especially challenging and I get lots of looks in public because of his behavior. His mind doesn’t work like other kids minds. He’s gone so far in public that people have threatened to call CPS on me. When I confront those people directly to their faces, they’re speechless. One woman went so far as to tell my 5yo “I’m sorry you have a mommy like her, little boy” after I dealt with a particularly difficult tantrum in which he wrapped himself around a concrete pylon in the store parking lot.

    People are gonna think what they want to think regardless of how you behave, how your child behaves, and what they’ve seen even if they haven’t seen the whole story or if they have. Parenting isn’t for the weak. Not saying you’re weak, but I’m saying that the childless don’t understand this. Others can take a get over it pill!

    • oldebabe

      Totally agree.

    • kisekileia

      Why would someone threaten to call CPS on you because of how your child behaves? And do you have a diagnosis demonstrating that his mind doesn’t work like other kids’ minds? This seems a little suspicious to me.

  • http://becomingjulie.blogspot.com/ BecomingJulie

    But didn’t you notice it was flashing faster than usual?

  • Jeremy

    I think this happens all the time, and that it’s almost always the case, in fact, when people find themselves in a deep disagreement (even a political or religious one). It’s all about getting inside someone’s head and understanding that their behavior makes sense given their underlying values and assumptions. In our urge to “other” people by assuming that they are simply bad or wrong, we often miss the essential validity of their views (even as ours are valid, too). Great observation!

    • Dalillama

      The problem, particularly in political and religious contexts, is that not every viewpoint is, in fact, actually valid. E.g., the politics of the current Republican party, notably including the frontrunners for their presidential candidacy, which are based on completely invalid (i.e. nonfactual)premises, combined with repulsively anti-human values. Looking at matters from their perspective merely throws the absolute evil that they advocate into harsher relief.

  • http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/ James K

    Your observation ties in with the Fundamental Attribution Error, where people tend to attribute their actions to their environment, but other people’s actions to their own desires. When I snap at people it’s because I’m tired and having a bad day, when you do it it’s because you’re a bad tempered person.

    • Cara

      I was going to mention this. I try to fight my impulse to commit the Fundamental Attribution Error by immediately thinking of environmental factors that could explain why someone is doing something, why I might do what they’re doing in their place.

      • http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/ James K

        That’s a good idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mchughdj danielmchugh

    I have a story to add, if I may:

    A few years ago, I was vacationing in Key Largo; my family and I were at a bar and grill beside a marina. When I went to pick up our drinks I forgot to tip the bartender- I was focused on getting back to the table before Mom wandered off (she had Alzheimer’s disease). This happened several times before he pointed it out to me… in front of the dozen or so people at or around the bar. He had no way of knowing that my mind was elsewhere; to him I was just that jerk who kept on ordering multiple drinks without tipping. It all ended well- I was absolutely mortified, ate my serving of humble pie, and left a huge tip to make good. We wound up getting our next round on the house.

    It is so easy to forget the effects we have on the people around us, especially when we’ve got our own problems to deal with. It’s just as easy to forget that other people have their own problems, and they probably aren’t acting out of malice when they’re rude to you somehow. Great post… and something everyone needs to put a little more thought towards.

  • Meggie

    Love the coat story. Child No.2 hated clothes as he had severe excema on every part of his body except his face. Clothes = pain. At home we kept the house warm and he never wore more than a nappy. Going out always meant a fight over clothes. I couldn’t count the number of times I was stopped, usually by an elderly lady, to tell my off for not dressing him properly. If I tried to explain then I got more criticism for not getting it treated. Nobody every seems to stop and think (1) the other kids have coats on, maybe there is a reason this child doesn’t have a coat and (2) maybe the child has spent weeks in hospital while doctors fail to find a cure for his excema and advice from a stranger about a wonderful moisturiser is not welcome.

  • Toibaobao

    Actually, I learned the answer to that exact question just recently in my Didactic method class at uni. 90% of the problems in personal life are caused by misunderstanding. Same is true for 80% of the problems in business life.