Prejudging others is an easy trap to fall into

Are you a judgmental person? Do people have the experience of walking away from conversations with you like they have been put in a little box? “What an insulting question! I certainly am not that type of person!” Actually, this week I realized I am a bit like that. Let me explain.
I was in New York for a day this week. I figured I would change up my usual routine and decided not to rent a car. It seemed that my schedule would be very tight and it might be easier to not spend time at the car rental counter and taking a shuttle back and forth to the terminal! This way I could just spend time waiting at security instead of also waiting for buses. I opted to take Lyft to the airport in Dallas, to my mom’s house, to my meeting in New York, and back. You get the idea.
While sitting in horrendous yet typical New York traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (anything but express as far as I am concerned!) I noticed I was surrounded by something unusual — silence. I am not one to be short on words or questions for friends or strangers alike, yet here I was sitting in a painful New York standstill without a sound being uttered! (The fact that the driver seemed to be playing a game of speeding up and then slamming on the brake as he came within inches of the car in front of us did nothing to make me want to say anything more than monosyllables!) Why had my normally talkative side suddenly vanished? It seemed that every time I got into a Lyft in New York I would not say a word but when I got into a Lyft in Dallas the conversation just flowed! What was that all about?
Upon reflection I understood what was going on. You see, “‘They’ say that New Yorkers are unfriendly and cold.” Unwittingly I had bought into this and began relating to all New Yorkers this way. As a result I subconsciously shut down when in a car with a driver in New York. What I was doing was not only stereotyping but was actually going against Torah. The Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) “And you shall give every person favorable judgment.” Just because a person may be from a certain geographic area is no reason to assume he falls into a certain box.
When we stop viewing individuals as distinct and start seeing them as part of a group that follows a certain pattern, we lose respect and appreciation for their unique personality and qualities. I always say that people are fascinating. Yet, I was guilty of fitting millions of people into a neat box!
I am committed to starting to view all (or at least a bunch of) New Yorkers as being distinct and unique! So — as long as my Lyft driver is not driving in a way that will cause me to toss my cookies — I will engage him or her in conversation and learn to see how special and surprisingly refreshingly interesting they are.
Rabbi Nesanya Zakon is the codirector of DATA of Plano.

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