The rain was splattering heavily against the bus window. I couldn’t hear it over the pod cast I was listening to, but the visuals were just as calming.
The bus was unusually crowded for the time of day, and I happened to be one of the few people without a person wedged into the seat beside me.
But alas, my personal freedom was not meant to be.
An elderly gentlemen stepped onto the bus, closed his umbrella, and shook it dry. He dusted off the sleeves and fixed the cuffs of his brown suit that he could have stolen from the set of Mad Men.
He spotted the seat next to me and made his leisurely advance toward it.
As he walked toward me, a million suggestions about him flooded my head before he got to my seat. Out of touch. Senile. Grumpy. Bitter. Lonely.
In short, I believed from the moment I saw him that he had nothing in common with me.
I tried to smile at him when our eyes met, but the scowl on his face appeared to be a permanent fixture. Cranky old man, I thought to myself.
He wiggled in his seat as though he was jostling for position. I tried to show him with my body language that I couldn’t move over any more than I already was. We weren’t off to the best start.
I tried to keep my gaze outside of the window, but the man kept fidgeting. I tried to ignore him, but I couldn’t.
I eventually checked to see what he was doing. He was pulling out a book. I was surprised to see it was Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan (…..Canadian!).
The nerd in me couldn’t help but remove my headphones and tell the man that was my favourite book from all of my undergraduate history studies. As I began a one-way conversation about some of my favourite points, he looked at me almost bewildered.
I instantly recognized that look of surprise, and that’s when it hit me.
He had judged me in the same way I had judged him.
I thought of how I must have looked to him when he first saw me. I was in gym gear, with long hair, a beard, drinking a shake, and with my headphones on.
I look at myself sometimes and think I look more like I belong at the battle of Thermopylae than I do in a law classroom. It was comical to imagine how he saw me.
To him, I was probably just a young punk who knew it all. I was probably listening to hip-hop or whatever “kids these days” find appealing. I was probably off to “do my exercises” so that I could better “chase all the girls.” I probably even smoked those “marijuana cigarettes.”
And who could blame him? With how I looked, it might have been a stretch for him to guess that I was actually listening to a podcast on the third Punic War, heading for a quick workout so I wouldn’t go stir crazy studying for law exams.
We talked about the book and our favourite personalities of the first world war. Our talks on the first world war quickly became talks about the second. We talked about our relatives who lived through it.
He found out I was a Canadian, and told me about his travels to Ottawa and Toronto. We talked about my travels in Australia.
It also turned out he was a professor of History. We compared our favourite Roman generals. We talked of famous victories and disastrous defeats. It may be nerd speak to some, but we were connecting through a mutual passion.
When he got on the bus, I had immediately assumed that this was a man I had nothing in common with. It’s safe to conclude he had assumed the same. Yet here we were, finding common ground at every turn. He reminded me of my grandfathers, and the passion they instilled in me for life.
I almost missed my stop because we were in such deep conversation. I found I was legitimately upset to part with my new friend. We said our goodbyes and I left with a deeper faith in our connectedness as humans.
I say, sir, that you can never make an intelligent judgement without evidence.” – Malcom X, The Playboy Interview.
We say it all the time – not to judge a book by its cover – but this experience took it a step further for me. I don’t think its at all possible to judge a book by its cover.
We really have no idea who a person is until we dive into their world.
We can only judge the mask they show to us. We can judge the trends they support, but we can’t judge them.
We have no idea if it’s Beethoven or Drake playing through those headphones. And, even if we did know, what does that really tell us about a person?
The more obsessed we’ve become over our own appearances, the more judgemental we become of the appearances of others.
The only way of truly knowing anyone or anything, is to get to know them.
Imagine a world the same as ours, except the moment someone felt the need to judge someone they instead took a moment to connect with a fellow human being.
What a world that would be.
Be good to each other,