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Street Smart

Learning not to judge


This past February, I was on a plane from Los Angeles to Seattle. I was already seated in an aisle seat, when I saw a really big guy about my age walking toward me wearing a kilt, knee high socks, a very colorful shirt and what seemed to me to be a funny looking hat. As luck would have it, this guy’s assigned seat was right next to mine. He slid past me and took his seat. We nodded at one another but didn’t speak.

I have a routine when I’m on a plane. I listen to music through my earbuds while reading a book. For me it helps the time pass. During the flight, I noticed my aisle mate (I later learned his name is Tom) was reading what looked like a comic book with some really unusual animation. My immediate thought was “Well, I’m flying into Seattle. Nothings gonna surprise me!”.

When the pilot announced our descent into Seattle, I put away my book and earbuds, as Tom put away his “comic book.” Tom then turned toward me and initiated a conversation. We sat there chatting and I learned that Tom worked in the video gaming industry. He was returning from an Anime (animation oriented) convention and lived in the Seattle area. I shared with him that my grandson had recently entered college, had a strong interest in Anime, and was hoping for a career in the same industry. I added that he (my grandson) could really use some advice. Without hesitation, Tom whipped out a business card and told me to have my grandson contact him to talk. That was it! We exited the plane, shook hands and went our separate ways. When I got home, I contacted my grandson and told him the story. My grandson contacted Tom and has been in regular contact with him since. It turns out that Tom is a very humble man. He is a “big wig” within the gaming industry, having created numerous popular video games for a Microsoft owned company. Tom has been a tremendous help to my grandson as he pursues his career goals.

Although I had some really valuable lessons taught to me at a young age, I don’t always apply them the way I should. My mom taught all her children to never judge a person based on appearance. For her, actions spoke much louder than words or dress and that’s how she evaluated people. I try to live up to my mom’s example, but sadly (as evidenced by the above example), it’s still easy for me to fall short and make a snap judgement. The sort of encounter I had with Tom has happened often in my life. I can’t count the times my first impression of a person was shown to be entirely wrong. What’s pathetic is the fact that I’m aware of this failing but keep doing it! If Tom hadn’t taken the initiative and engaged me in a conversation, it would have been really easy for me to dismiss him as a ‘weirdo’ and ignore him. After all, (in my mind) his clothing was “different,” he was reading what I thought was a strange magazine and was flying into Seattle. I’d have been wrong about Tom and missed an opportunity to meet a really great person.

I’m not suggesting that the reason to be open minded and resist snap judgments is because “you never know what the other person might be able to do for you.” Additionally, I recognize the fact that oftentimes a snap judgement, in certain situations, might be entirely appropriate and even necessary. I’m simply using this example to suggest that an initial impression might be completely inaccurate and we should be open to that possibility.

When Tom first saw me as he was walking to his seat, I was wearing a western shirt, jeans, boots and a cowboy hat. I wonder what Tom initially thought of me. It didn’t stop him from talking to a guy he quite likely initially judged as a “weirdo.”. I think Tom probably learned my mom’s lesson better than I did.

Blaine Blackstone is a retired Los Angeles Police Sergeant who enjoys the simpler life in Thompson Falls. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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