Dear Readers,

I met a woman the other day. In addition to being the mother of several children, she had a very successful career. She had worked her way up the rungs of her profession and was now considered one of the top members in this challenging field. She had a no-nonsense look about her, and she appeared smug, almost arrogant.

I met her soon after I had heard gossip about her. A friend had consulted her to help with a situation, and she wasn’t forthcoming with any assistance. My impression of this woman was cemented. In my mind, she was cold and arrogant—not someone I would likely want to become too close with.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly we form impressions of people? How quick we are to judge them, based on superficial cues?

In the days that followed, I met this woman again, and she started up a conversation. As her daughter climbed onto her lap, she told me that unlike her own children, she didn’t have much of a childhood. Her mother had passed away when she was a pre-teen and left behind several children; she was the oldest. The responsibility of caring for her young siblings fell on her shoulders. She quickly learned how to cook, how to buy clothes and how to take care of their needs. While her classmates were busy studying for tests or going on outings, she had responsibilities. Until today, she was close to her siblings; they often leaned on her for advice or support. She gave me an example of one in a dire situation, and she was taking on the challenge.

She said this all very matter of factly, without bitterness or sadness about her past, and without pride or conceit. She was not trying to elicit my sympathy nor show me how much kindness she did. She spoke simply without emotion, as if she was sharing a memory from her distant past or an encounter that she had yesterday at work.

I went home after that short meeting with a completely different impression of this woman. Her hard work had paid off, and she now enjoyed a more affluent, happy life. But what I had judged as gruffness or smugness were merely necessary tools she used in coping with the challenges she had been given early on in life. Beneath her outward hardness or emotionlessness was a soft and giving heart.

Over the next few weeks, our paths crossed once again, and I noticed several other small and big acts of kindness that this woman was involved in.

I learned an important lesson about judging people. We all are so much more than we appear to be. We all have a past and a present; we all have challenges that we’re dealing with that others are completely unaware of. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt and judge less, and when we do, favorably.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW