When is it ok to judge people? We live in a time when calling someone “judge-y” can lead to hurt feelings and damaged friendships. It’s useful, because it reminds people to try to be more open-minded. I also try to remember that none of us knows what happens behind closed doors, that we’re all doing the best we can with the resources we have. Something happened recently, though, that made me wonder whether and when leaping to judgment without all the facts doesn’t hurt.
I have a friend, whom I’ll call Magna, receiving radiation therapy, the last phase of her cancer treatment. They zap her at Texas Presbyterian, which you might know as the hospital that treated the U.S. Ebola patient and is treating one of the nurses who cared for him. My friend usually takes the bus and train to her treatment because she loves the time it gives her to do nothing for a change. I gave her a ride last week because it’s the only way I get to spend any time with the most social of my butterfly friends.
We saw news trucks everywhere, gumming up traffic flow on the grounds of the hospital complex. Magna said that the situation has gotten better than they used to be – the trucks were parked on the grassy areas rather than in the radiation therapy building parking lot. She said that the cancer patients would have to park a couple of buildings away and take a shuttle. Someone at the hospital finally decided maybe that wasn’t the right group to displace.
We parked at the radiation building next to an elderly woman wearing a very cute denim dress and getting a wheelchair out of her trunk. I wanted to ask her where she got the dress, but Magna’s appointment was in thirty minutes, and we needed to stop at the maternity ward, two buildings over, to wish a friend of Magna’s good luck with her labor and delivery.
We walked back to Radiation. Magna greeted and hugged everyone in her booming voice as she went back to the zapping room, and I waited in the dressing room, checking the news. I could hear Magna’s voice coming back down the hall, “He died? The Ebola patient died! I thought he was getting better! That’s terrible!”
Then I heard another voice, quavery. “They never should have let him come here in the first place. I’m glad he’s dead.”
I froze. It felt like someone scooped out my soul to hear that much hate in another person’s voice. I looked up and saw the cute denim dress walking by. She looked at me and said, “God answered MY prayers.” It took me a minute to integrate the sassy tone with the terrible thing she said.
When Magna came out, I told her what the woman said. Magna laughed and said some people don’t know any better, and that the elderly in particular say whatever comes to mind first. Seeing Magna laugh and move on made me feel a little better.
When we got back in my car, I noticed a foot-long stick under my windshield along with this note.
If you can’t read the spidery writing, here’s what it says: “Can You Not Read Signs? Parking Lot is for sick Cancer Radiation Patients!! Do Not park here again! Dr. Barker”
This pissed me off. My passenger was a “sick Cancer Radiation Patient,” and I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. Magna laughed. “Why is Dr. Barker out in the parking lot checking the cars? He’s one of the radiologists. Seems like he’d be too busy treating patients.”
She called the radiation therapy reception desk to explain that we’d made a stop at the maternity ward before Magna’s appointment and to ask one of the nurses to explain and apologize to Dr. Barker. As she explained a second time about the note and why she was calling, and as my brain processed the handwriting, the weird capitalization, and the paper, it came to me in a flash. Dr. Barker had not been patrolling the parking lot. He didn’t leave the note. Hateful Denim Dress wrote the note with her shaky hands and signed his name to it.
Magna took the note to show the doctors and nurses. They laughed and laughed. Dr. Barker said, “I’m framing that and putting it up in my office.” Magna laughed about it in the car and during lunch. I laughed along, feeling queasy and unbalanced on the inside.
I know Denim Dress is elderly, and I can understand her anger at being a cancer patient who has to take a shuttle to her radiation appointment because the media has taken over her parking lot. I’m trying to make the leap between having to take a shuttle to radiation and praying that another sick patient dies.
It’s that last part that’s stuck with me all these days. Magna was able to brush the experience with Denim Dress off – why give more attention to a lunatic and her ravings? I’ve spent more emotional energy on this than I should, I know. Is it ok to write her off as a lunatic? Should I just accept that there are willfully ignorant, hateful people in the world? Can I give into the visceral reaction that she is a horrible person who has either surrounded herself with other horrible people or who tortures the misfortunate people who are obligated to interact with her?
Is she doing the best she can with the resources that she has? Yes, of course she is. She’s human, so she must be. She makes me count and be grateful for my blessings. I feel sorry for her that she’s suffering from cancer. I still think she’s a horrible, hateful monster. Is it ok to judge her?
Yes. Yes, it is.
It is always okay to make a moral judgement as long as you are aware of your relative contexts. I do try to feel pity for horrible people rather than expend hate, expend pity. What kind of horrible life must she live to think that way? What a terrible approach to the world. I pity a person that lives with that much anger and indignation. It cannot bring about a pleasant life.
I know judging comes from certainty, and certainty closes the mind, and we all know where that leads. I’m trying to feel pity instead of revulsion. I’m having a lot of trouble getting there.
CC: i am totally with you. I think exactly the same way, however, in your last sentence you ask if it is ok to judge her. Well, i think you dont have to judge her. BUT you also dont have to question your thoughts and feelings. My late mother-in-law who also died of cancer was under heavy medication. She once pissed me off verbally so much. I didnt judge her, but i was also not afraid of immediately reject her statement and walked off. After a long walk i came back and all was back to normal.
I LOVE this, changing the question from, “Is it ok to judge?” to “Is it necessary to judge?” in combination with acceptance that my feelings are my feelings, and they don’t require judgment either.