Perhaps one of the best reasons not to judge other people is that we’re so very bad at it.
Most of the time (pretty much all of the time, actually), we don’t know the whole story. Though we think we’ve got the facts, if we’re missing just one — and it’s an important one — we’ll misinterpret everything.
Take the chair my daughter recently bought at a secondhand store.
It was a steal — a beautiful leather chair in elegant cream, for $15. So she bought it.
Three weeks later, at the same store, she found the matching ottoman, which hadn’t been there before.
Given what we know about this particular store, we assumed that the eccentric staff, for odd reasons of their own, simply hid the ottoman in the back and didn’t put it out until later. It fit neatly with our presumptions about the place, some of them based upon actual facts. It was a sound, logical, reasonable judgment.
Two weeks later, a friend walked into my daughter’s home and said, “Oh, you have my old chair. My husband didn’t like it, so we sent it to the secondhand store. But we didn’t send the ottoman because it was at my grandma’s house. We put that in three weeks later.”
One salient fact. But it changed everything.
The artwork, Mount Nebo Range, is an encouragement to us to withhold quick judgment, because things are not always as clear as they seem. Clouds and mist obscure the peaks of the mountain top, and if we did not know better, we would say that there was no top — because we can’t see it.
And even if we say it’s there because reason says it should be — we have no idea how high it is, what shape it is, or even, actually, whether it does exist. (In the case of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, there is no longer a peaked, domed top, as it was blown off during the 1980 volcanic eruption.)
We can make our best judgement with what we’ve got, but it’s always wise to remember that what we’ve got may not be all that there is.
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