Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Today on the train I decided to glance around at my fellow passengers. Sure, this may seem rude to those who frequent public transportation, who often stare into a book, smartphone, out the window or blankly into space. And by “glance” I don’t mean “stare”. It is more of a survey of my surroundings and an inspection of the beings that inhabit it. During this process I attempt to avoid judgments, which is rather difficult since that tends to be the first place the mind goes when looking at a stranger.

Enter the judgments:

“That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism.” “She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive.” “Poor woman looks haggard and distraught.” “Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here…”

To shift a value judgment, which you will inevitably form, you must couple it with a perceptive filter. The Myers-Briggs personality test puts these two things at opposite ends of some ridiculous black-and-white, this-or-that scale. In case you are curious, I hate dichotomies. Yes, they do exist and they do help us make sense of the world, but so much of life exists in that grey area which is neither this-or-that, black-or-white. So, while you can be inclined more towards the judgmental realm (Enter my hater friends, of which I have many. Love you guys. J), or perhaps you lean more towards the perceptive way of viewing the world (Hello artists and sensitive types. I count myself among your ranks, but for some weird reason I tend to align with the haters.), know that both are not mutually exclusive.  Yes, you may immediately jump to a judgment, but try sitting with that for a minute and see if your perception can gunk it up. For more clarity, in the aforementioned personality test, the judging aspect is defined by (Thinking/Feeling) while the perceptive aspect is defined by (sensing/intuition). How you ask? Glad you asked. Let’s walk through this…

Take each one of those judgments from above and add a story. Yes, write a story for that person. Seem like a waste of time? Well, it is not. This process will make life infinitely more meaningful. Believe me or believe David Foster Wallace in one of his speeches (**See the links at the end of this post).  

Apply the perceptive filter:

That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism. Hmm, perhaps he has a sick wife or parent to support or perhaps a child has a disability and is in need of expensive healthcare. He comes in early and leaves the office late, essentially doubling his workload to climb the ladder, get bonuses and support his loved ones.”

She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive. Well, let me see. I remember being there myself, a scrawny, pale, skinny weirdo with zero chance of kissing a girl. What is her deal though? A child of divorce or parents caught in a loveless marriage? Ah yes, she is trying to find herself in this chaotic world just as we all are. It just so happens that she is 17 and this is how it is done at that age.”

Poor woman looks haggard and distraught. She must have a boat load of kids to take care of while working two jobs, neither of which pays very well. Sure, she probably could have used more birth control, but that is difficult when a box of condoms cost $15 and pills cost $60 and you live below the poverty line. Maybe, just maybe, she comes home exhausted as hell and reads a children’s book to those kids to get them off to sleep for no other reason than she loves them. Is there is any other reason to work two shitty jobs?”

Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here… Wait. Take a moment to think about the fringe people of our society- the discarded, the uncared for, the neglected. Would you not lose your mind if left with this emptiness? Most will say there is no dignity in this man. I say there is. Why?  Because he keeps going! He may sleep outside and only have two pairs of pants, but Sweet Lord!, this man endures. Is there not dignity in that? Perhaps that is the highest rank of dignity. To get shit on your entire life by systemic, cultural and economic structures you cannot even begin to fathom and in the face of that say, “Fuck you life! I will keep going until you deem it is my time. Sure I will talk to myself on the train, because well, Fuck, no one else will talk to me. Yeah, I will also piss myself because it feels warm at the time when I am sleeping under the tracks on a chilly March morning in Chicago.”

And then, here you go- my point. Dignity exists all around us. Sure, I may have applied it with the least non-judgmental, perceptive filter here, but I only did that to drive home a point. It is remarkably easy to judge, and way more difficult to perceive. Funny thing about perception though- the more you do it the better you get at it; and, get this, it does in fact make life more meaningful. Don’t believe me, believe one of the great minds of our time** (God rest his soul).

**See David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College here:

**You can also read it here:


  1. True we shouldn't judge so fast. Everyone deserves dignity.

  2. What you did here is nice work Ben. It is very similar to a thought log. Look one up one and bust out your old cognitive distortions and common misbeliefs list. It is a very similar idea to your post and, you may enjoy the practice.


  3. Yes Levi. Thanks for reinforcing that with me. I will most definitely begin a thought log, although this blog kind of serves that purpose too.

    What gets us bogged down and frantic in life can almost always be overcome with mindfulness, thought redirection and action. We are both learning this truth in life and I believe it is making us stronger individuals.