Describing a person or a situation as right or wrong can be a tricky task especially when one is just an observer for a few minutes. Life is busy and each and every person has strong opinions and biases based on their experiences, beliefs and day to day moods. With limited time we are quick to come to strong conclusions. What is interesting to note is how each person’s belief system can be very different from the other person’s, and can thus lead to very different conclusions. Even a single person can make different judgments at different times based on his situation or just his mood that day.
The incident I am about to describe occurred when I had gone to a mattress store. As one would expect people were shopping around the store and a lot of the mattresses had people lying on them to try to see if it suits them. Some people looked like they were actually sleeping, a couple were behaving a bit oddly and several small kids were jumping up and down the mattress. Now, no one knows if all these people would end up buying a mattress that day but then nobody seemed to mind anybody’s behavior including the store manager. What was interesting though, was that on one of the mattresses in the very corner of the store a man was sitting in a prayer pose with a cap on his head; a person of Islamic faith quietly performing his afternoon ritual. Everyone in the store paused time to time to stare at him. One of them shook their head; a girl even snapped a photo of him on her mobile phone (perhaps she would put it on facebook later); a few fascinated whispers but eventually people just moved on without much care.
This incident though could be analyzed in several ways. In any Islamic country the described situation would be a very normal scene. Regular prayer is a part of their religion and life as such, making this very appropriate and even respectable. In the western world though, while we believe in religions, there is no tradition of regular prayers, definitely not in the workplace unless a person works in a church. Perhaps in some countries, the cozy couple on the bed and the screaming kids jumping around would be viewed with more interest or annoyance as this kind of behavior maybe uncommon for them. It is incredible to note how a behavior can be very normal and admired in one culture and confusing and unknown in another.
A person’s past experience also comes into the picture here. People who have previously worked in multicultural groups or people who have traveled abroad to lands with varying norms and rules can better relate to such situations and so can people with similar religious beliefs. One’s personality and even mood on a particular day can affect our decisions. Some people are just easily irritable and cannot tolerate even their own children leave alone other people and then there are others who mind their business and are tolerant as long as it does not bother them.
Later, as we were leaving the store after making a purchase, the store manager, a big, tough looking person somehow got to talk about the incident. He explained to us how the person praying was a friend of his working at a neighboring store and that he would come there occasionally in the afternoons for his prayers as the shop had barely anyone around that time. He went on tell us emotionally how the store’s business had picked up significantly since his friend had come into his store for the first time and that he considered him to be a lucky charm.
This immediately changes the perspective of the person in discussion. He looks at once like an angelic man who with his divine powers had created such a good fortune for his friend. It could also be simple co-incidence but one always likes to assume things.
One wonders with this new revelation if money also plays a role on how a person views things. Is it indeed true that we tolerate rich, nicely dressed people’s ill behavior much more than a normal person’s similar behavior? What would have happened if the store manager’s business had actually gone down? Would he have assumed the opposite? These are hard questions to answer and different people would react differently.
It seems that a single person is being viewed in so many ways for his simple unaware deed. He is a lucky charm for someone, a nuisance for the other, a fascinating picture for one and a multifaceted topic for yet another. Even without actually talking one sentence with this person, he could be judged so quickly and so differently by so many people based on their beliefs, moods and situations and not his.
The perspective we have of a person or a situation depends on the angle from which we see it. To gain more perspective one has to be patient and willing to think over our narrow angled views. It would be in poor light to make these snap judgments without seeing the whole picture. Being open minded and trying to put oneself in the other person’s shoes would get us at least a step closer to gaining clarity over the issue and when not in a situation to make a reasonable assessment, then the judgment must be reserved.