Think. Learn. Act. Remind.
It was a strange thought. That sentence was simple but so powerful. And the fact that I found it in a Clinical Methods textbook made it all the more striking! It taught me about life, it taught me about judging people, it taught me to take others’ praise with a grain of salt.
That sentence was reminding the medical student new to history taking to assess a patient’s social support system. It read,
“The cute little old lady sitting in front of you may have been a mean young woman whom nobody liked” (paraphrased).
This sentence, in all its simplicity and brevity, opened my eyes to an oft-ignored truth: that people may not be what they appear to be. Being cognizant of this fact has saved me more than once!
It’s easy to make mistakes in judging people based on their appearance and I realize we do it all the time!
So you saw a matronly hijabi sister at the masjid and thought she must be really pious? Or you saw a non-hijabi girl, dressed in Western clothes and shook your head at her lack of religiosity? Perhaps you saw a pleasant-looking guy with a broad smile and thought he must have a great personality? Or did you see a serious-looking person and wondered if he had any friends?
How often do we jump to conclusions based on people’s appearances?! We think somebody is reliable or trustworthy based on how he looks and how he is dressed, the more professional-looking the better! We judge people’s character based on casual meetings with people without realizing that most people are a lot more pleasant outside than inside the home! And vice versa .. a brief encounter that leaves us without a great impression of somebody, makes us put that person down as unpleasant.
But the truth is, nobody knows the true character of a person except that person himself and Allah (SWT). Perhaps that matronly hijabi sister is an oppressive mother or mother-in-law and the non-hijabi westernized girl has great faith in Allah but is still working sincerely on her iman (faith). The pleasant-looking man with the broad smile may have a nasty temper at home where he isn’t trying to impress anyone but the serious-looking person we thought wasn’t friendly, is actually an honest, sincere and caring individual. Oh and the gregarious, confident, dynamic speaker who mesmerizes us with his speech, he may just be words without actions!
So the next time we find ourselves jumping ahead in passing judgment on somebody’s character, let’s stop and remind ourselves of the little old lady. And better still, when some person who doesn’t know us very well praises us out loud, let’s remind ourselves of our deficiencies and flaws … And put down that person’s praise in our minds as a mis-attribution.
That will be better for us in this life as well as in the Hereafter.