Live more... Judge less...

My parents taught me to 'be careful how you treat others as you don't know who they might become'.

I'd like to go one further and say... 

'Be careful how you treat others as you don't know who they are/were'

This revelation was sparked by a recent movie I watched featuring Robert De Niro called 'The Intern'. I won't say more as I don't want to spoil the storyline... but it encouraged some much needed reflection on the impact that strangers have had on my life when I took the chance to trust them and talk to them, without knowing who they were. 

When I first arrived in London as a young graduate, ready to take on the world, I can remember standing in the Underground at the Tottenham Court Road Station, waiting for the Central-line train to arrive and as the train sped past with my loose hair flying all over the place, I felt so excited that my heart wanted to burst. I truly felt like 'I made it!' (and can recall whispering that to myself). After a few months of getting excited about the trains flying by, I joined the rest of the London Commuting World and started reading whilst waiting for my train. As a typical 'commuting zombie' you tend to focus on your book and not much else apart from the moments you step onto your train prior to taking up reading again. On one such an occasion, I was sitting on one of the benches on the side of the track reading a book (the title of which I cannot recall) when the gentleman sitting to my left started talking to me about how much he loved the book I was reading. We started talking about the book and questions about my accent lead to him telling me about his many travels to South Africa. It turned out that he used to be an English Professor who'd seen most of the world. It was a great and inspiring conversation which I really enjoyed and as my train arrived I jumped up and walk towards it. As I turned to wave at him, I noticed that he wasn't wearing any shoes and that his clothing were layered and dirty and he had a bag next to him with some bedding in it. With simultaneous shock and sadness I realised that he was sleeping on the streets. He smiled at me kindly and we waved at each other like we were old friends. That last image haunted me (and does still) as I couldn't help but wonder what it was that happened in his life for him to end up on the streets... A well spoken, highly educated gentleman who was kind enough to share his thoughts with strangers. It left me feeling really down... 

A few years later after an amazing and very late night out in London with my little sister and best friend, we took a cab home in the early morning hours (as no trains were running anymore and we had no idea where the night busses were leaving from). It was a long cab ride in which we got into conversation with our driver. He was such an interesting man and had a wonderfully positive outlook on life. His opinions were educated and not forced and his advice was logical and interesting. It turned out that he used to be a lawyer in Nigeria and that he used to have his own practice out there. He sold his practice and moved to the UK to try and provide his family with a better life, but could only find work as a cab driver and now hardly got to see his family with the hours he was working. When we got home, we shook his hand (as we felt honoured to have met him) as we left the cab and he refused to charge us. Of course we insisted on paying (and did) but we could tell how much it meant to him to be seen for who he really was and for his opinions te be held in high regard. We decided amongst ourselves to 'never judge a book by it's cover' ever again! 

Years later... I was working as an Army Captain in Germany. It was my first week at my new unit and my Commanding Officer invited me to his house for cocktails (together with many other officers from the Brigade) prior to our yearly Summer Ball. My Commanding Officer felt that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to meet the Brigade Commander as there were hardly any opportunities for a Captain to get to meet the Commander of their Brigade considering the incredibly busy schedule that the Commander was committed to. I arrived with another Captain to an overly crowded house and the two of us stood in one corner, just looking at all the beautiful evening dresses gracing the room. A well spoken gentleman came over to the both us and started talking to us. We were quite relieved as we were really feeling out of place. I have no idea how the conversation started but we ended up talking about South Africa, politics and travel. After about 20 mins he made his excuses and I went to look for my boss, asking if this would be a good time to be introduced to the Commander as we were all about to leave for the ball. My boss informed me that I had just stood talking to the Commander for the past 20 mins... I said "WHAT?! That kind and interesting gentleman who knew so much about South Africa?" Uh... yes :) I expected someone that important to be a lot less approachable. I was lucky enough to work for this Commander as his assistant a year later on an Operational Deployment to a warm and sandy place. Apart from being my mentor, he taught me about what it meant to earn respect, rather than enforce it and he showed me that you could learn a lot about people when you see how they treat their subordinates rather than their equals and superiors. I had (and still have) the world of respect for this person and have never admitted that on our first account... I did not know who he was... 

I have tried to live my life in this way... to not judge others based on their rank or their clothes, but by who they are when talking to them and constantly searching for what I can learn from them. Which is why, as much as possible, I relish the opportunity to get to talk to others and I appreciate them taking the time, to talk to me. 

Maybe I'm writing to let you know that there are amazing and inspirational people amongst us everyday and that wonderful things could happen if we take the time to see who they are rather than judging them by the way they look, and just maybe... I'm writing about myself...

I know what it feels like to be a foreigner in a country from which I cannot speak the language properly (but I never stop trying!) and I know what it feels like when people judge and dismiss you for your accent and how much it hurts when they choose not to take a chance on you at all... because you are different. 

I'll tell you this now (from experience) that when you do take the chance to get to know those around you and look past their differences in order to truly see them...then magic happens :)

Merry Christmas and may 2017 be your best ever!

Live more... Judge less...