This I Believe

Lara - Portage, Michigan
Entered on October 21, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: tolerance

I like to believe I don’t judge other people. However, when I drive through the streets of downtown, I glance at the pedestrians on the sidewalk. Yes, I label them as if they were objects. That man has the waist of his jeans down to his knees and a baseball cap on with the bill flipped up; Hoodlum. That young woman has tight white pants on with the word “delicious” printed on the butt; I bet she gets around. I do this when I am meeting someone as well. Before I even say “nice to meet you,” I have already passed my first judgment about their level of education, religious beliefs, or income level.

A few months ago, I was backing out of the driveway when my cell phone rang. I answered it. Bam. I hung up my phone, and looked over my shoulder. I had just backed my new Civic into a rust-eaten, beat-up truck. I got out of my car to see that the man who got out of the truck had two-day sideburn stubble and chin-length hair slicked back behind his ears.

“You didn’t even look, did you?” He said sternly. It was true; I hadn’t looked. I was just another idiot teenage driver who had had her license for four months before getting into an accident in her own driveway.

“No. I’m sorry.” I said, not sure if I was actually sorry. He hadn’t even honked; I had no warning. My driveway is ten feet away from a stop sign. He must have been speeding without heeding the stop sign if he didn’t even have time to honk. He had just another dent in his filthy car and I had part of my new back bumper hanging off. He exchanged information with my mother, who had been inside the house while I was in the driveway. I’m not even sure what happened then. All I know is that I spent the rest of my Friday night wailing about how a smarmy, oily man sped into an intersection and little innocent me accidentally backed into him.

My mother refused to let me believe this. “Give him the benefit of the doubt,” she said, reminding me that I was at fault for this accident. She said that I shouldn’t pass judgment about the man whose evening I had ruined. If anything, he had more right to pass judgment about me. I knew that I was the teenage bimbo who was on her cell phone and backed out of her driveway without looking. Still, I didn’t want to listen to what my mother had to say. I didn’t want to refer to my victim as anything but ‘smarmy’. I even looked him up on an online database to see if he was a convicted felon, because to me, he sure looked like it.

It turned out that the smarmy man was on his way to a Valentine’s Day Daddy-Daughter Dance when I slammed into his daughter’s side of the car. Luckily, no one was hurt. He called my mother the next day to say that he had called his insurance company, but decided that one more dent in his old truck wasn’t going to hurt, so he didn’t place a claim. He told my mom that he hoped that I would be all right. He hoped that I would be all right. He was wishing well the oblivious girl who had backed into his truck, on his daughter’s side, no less.

When my mother hung up the phone, I knew at that point that she was right and that I was miserably and completely wrong. I passed unfair judgment on this man when I should have taken responsibility for my own actions. I knew that he hadn’t judged me; he had wished me well. He had given me the benefit of the doubt when I hadn’t deserved it.

They say that first impressions are the most important. This is true to an extent, but I believe that it is better to give someone the benefit of the doubt, without judging him or her on his or her first impression.