The Urge to Not Judge

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
My dog, Coda, is a toy poodle. She thinks she's a mountain goat. Can climb steep rock and cliff faces, as good as any ram. Doesn't need a leash. She obeys commands and sticks by my wife, daughter, or me whenever she's out for a walk.

Four weeks ago I was walking my dog on Bell Rock Trail, just down the block from our house. Dirt trails that wind around spectacular red rock canyons.

As I was rounding a bend, my cell phone rang. I answered it. A woman walking her black lab was passing me as I talked on the phone. Coda was right behind me. All of a sudden this woman was yelling at me.

"Hey, ya Chucklehead! Is that phone call more important than your dog?! Huh? Ya Chucklehead!!

Sweet Myrtle! Where did that come from?

My first impulse, my first bodily reaction when someone attacks me like this, is to pounce on them with my words. Usually with something sarcastic or quippy. A REACTIVE retort at the very least.

However, I didn't do that. For some reason, I didn't offer a 'come back' to her attack. I didn't go to that place. My brain was working on some other plane. Neurons of compassion instead of anger were firing away.

What came out of my mouth was, "Thank you."

When I got home, I told my wife what happened. It really affected me.

For the next few weeks, I would jokingly approach my wife and refer to myself as a Chucklehead. I had no anger or animosity toward this woman, and figured something must have been going on in her life to react the way she did. I didn't judge her for it. Nor did I condemn her.

Every time I walked the trail with my dog from that day on, I wondered what would happen if I bumped into her again. I heard the word "Chucklehead" in my head. I'd never been called a Chucklehead before, but I'm guessing what I was feeling was how an actual Chucklehead must feel.

Yesterday I took my dog to the trail again. As I walked on a narrow stretch of path, guess who was coming toward me with her dog? I picked up Coda so she could pass me. As she passed, she stopped and looked at me.

She said, "I owe you an apology. I was really rude to you last month and you handled it really well, with what you said. I'm sorry. I was having a bad day."

I said, "I appreciate the apology. Thank you." As she walked away, I called to her.
"What's you're name?"
"I'm Dean."

I watched as she walked with her dog toward the main trail.

Now when we're out on the trail, we can pass each other and say hi. And I am no longer a Chucklehead.

I remember this whenever I'm talking to loss mitigators at the bank. Aware of the crappy day they may be having. To show compassion, to realize what they're going through has nothing to do with me. And by caring, you can change their day.