Judging ourselves

by Steve Brock on March 7, 2013

Recently, in the course of a branding project, a client made what I believe to be a very profound comment:

“We judge ourselves by our intentions. We judge others by their actions.”

Read it again.

It’s so true and yet so easy to miss.

Many years ago, my father-in-law was in Italy. At a popular tourist site, a Japanese couple approaches him and using hand gestures, points to their camera, to my father-in-law and then to themselves. My father-in-law points to the camera, points to himself and then back to them. The Japanese couple nods enthusiastically. My father-in-law nods enthusiastically. He even bows to them. They bow back.

The Japanese couple then step over to be in front of the monument they want in their picture. But when they turn around, they are horrified to see my father-in-law casually walking away with their camera around his neck, acting as if he’s just received a wonderful new gift.

The Japanese couple chases him down and apologetically tries to explain in Japanese that they weren’t giving him the camera but simply asking him to take their picture. My father-in-law cannot understand their words, but after allowing for a moment of extreme awkwardness, he laughs and, in words they cannot understand but in a tone they do, explains that he was merely joking. He then takes their picture, returns their camera and both parties leave smiling because of the encounter.

That’s a fun example of how one party knew their own intentions and assumed the other party did as well. And in reality, the other party, my father-in-law, did understand the other’s intentions. He just wanted to point out playfully how we all make certain assumptions.

His example illustrates how in foreign cultures, people have even less of an ability to understand our internal intentions. All they can go on is our actions.

The same applies even at home. The difference is that once others get to know us well, they have a better sense of our values and intentions. Still, it’s a great quote and principle to remember anywhere since it explains why people respond to us differently than we think they will.

But let’s take it one step further: What if we turned it around?

What if we judged ourselves by our actions, not just on what we thought about doing? What if I said those encouraging words rather than just thinking them? Thanked the person with a small note or gift rather than assuming they knew my appreciation? Smiled and nodded in a conversation to let the other person know I was paying attention?

What if we judged others by what they intended? Can’t do that because you can’t read their minds? True. But maybe, it might cause us to go deeper with others, listen more closely to better understand them…and their intentions.

You don’t have to wait for a trip to try it. Just be aware of what you actually do. Take a week – or even one day – to really pay attention to your actions. See if what you do matches what you deep down believe.

Try it. I’ll do the same. Then let me know what happens. Not what you think might happen or what you’d like to have happen. What actually occurs when your actions match your deeper intentions.

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Judging others

by Steve Brock on February 28, 2013

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3)

As someone who routinely walks around with an entire lumber yard sticking out of my retinas, I appreciate this command by Jesus to look at our own issues before we look at those of others. Not being one to argue with Jesus, I would, however, like to offer a few, how shall I call them, uh, caveats to this issue of judging, particularly as they relate to travel. I’ll start with one here on judging others and conclude next time with one on judging ourselves.

Regarding judging others, sometimes, especially in a foreign place, that’s not such a bad thing. Not in the way Jesus talks about, but in the sense of evaluating them, making the call as to whether you can trust them or not.

Grand Bazaar Conversation

These two guys at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey are having a much better conversation than we had with the taxi driver.

For example, I remember emerging with my wife and youngest son from the warren of alleys and corridors that make up the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. We find the line of taxis and head to the front. Unfortunately, the lead car looks a bit sketchy. Faded blue, dented and no markings other than a handwritten piece of cardboard on the dashboard reading “Taxi.”

Very reassuring.

The driver steps out and suddenly, he’s got a friend with him (where he came from, I have no idea). In broken English, they both ask where we want to go. We tell them and ask how much. The friend gives us a number that is three times what it cost to get here. We tell him so.

He explains this concept called rush hour. We inform him we’re aware of rush hour but that it was rush hour when we came here in the morning. Apples to apples.

It’s different traffic going the other direction. Harder. More cars and people. More expensive, he explains.

No thanks, we tell him and start to walk off.

Remarkably, the price halves.

My wife and I look at each other. Even with the lower price, something doesn’t feel quite right. But by now, the friend has started to usher us toward the car, one hand on my back gently moving me forward, the other extended toward the car as if he’s one of the models on The Price is Right pointing out the grand prize.

We hesitate. The driver opens the rear door. He looks at his friend. He looks at us. He spits (on the pavement, not on us). Then he smiles.

There are happy smiles. There are even sad smiles. There are genuine smiles and fake smiles. Laughing smiles and Mona Lisa smiles. But there are also creepy smiles. You can guess which one this is.

Now back to judging, I don’t want to imply that bad oral hygiene makes a person less than trustworthy. But combine this taxi driver’s few remaining yellowish/brownish teeth with what can only be described as a leer and you have an instant judgment: There’s no way we’re getting in that cab.

We tell them no thanks. They get angry (or mock angry). We move on and catch the streetcar across the intersection. We have a very nice ride on the street car and no one on the streetcar smiles at us in a creepy manner.

Sometimes judging pays off.

On trips, you have to make judgment calls in all sorts of situations. Is this the same thing Jesus meant? Usually not, but it is easy to let the one influence the other. We could have walked away from that experience in Istanbul assuming that all Turkish taxi drivers are rather, well, scummy. But that would have been the wrong kind of judging.

Ever made a judgment call on a trip and it paid off? Ever made the wrong call? Ever had an experience that shaped how you view everyone in a particular country?

It’s all a judgment call. The question is how you do it. I’ll let you be the judge of that.


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