On Understanding

This post has been in the works for some time. However, I attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at my university Monday and listened to a fantastic keynote speaker before the service started. He stressed that we should think about making every day a service day and to serve others beyond a few hours of volunteering. His speech motivated me to think about the ways I serve others in my life.

So far, I know that I have chosen a career path that will allow me to serve others in a meaningful way, and I constantly strive to be the same person I present on social media that I am in person. I also realized that part of how I serve others is how I treat the patrons at my library. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on being understanding and nonjudgmental…

Everyone has a bad day at some point in their lives. Many people have days that are a lot worse than my worst bad day will ever be.

My best friend and I (on the left) before service started.
My best friend and I (on the left) before service started.

There is no rule or law that states people who come into the library must be having a good day in order to use our resources.

Yet many people (in general, not just at libraries) are quick to judge someone based off of one interaction. Perhaps they were having a horrible day. Maybe they really are just a rude person. We don’t know, and it shouldn’t be our job to judge them; we should try and help them or let them be.

Judgments don’t just apply to personalities though. They apply to things like how one dresses and what they come into the library to do.

We as humans are quick to judge others based off of what they wear and how they present themselves, but one of the first lessons I learned when I started working for the library was to not assume the man in the suit is rich or that the not-so-pleasant-smelling patron is experiencing homelessness. People do all sorts of things to hide their true situations, which includes what they do at the library.

Assumptions harm people. They affect how we view people, how we treat them, and if spoken, they are likely to harm the person they’re about.

If there is a not-so-nice-smelling patron who comes in regularly, we don’t know what their life situation is. They could have a mental illness and not have the money to access proper treatment, so they let themselves go. Depression has a strong ability to stop the person with depression from taking care of their self. People who experience mania might be so involved in an idea that they completely forget to shower or practice self-care and thus charge into the library to research how to make their ideas reality.

If a patron comes in wearing a suit every day, they might have lots of money, or they might not. What if they were raised to dress nicely every day so that good opportunities will find them? What if they are extremely poor, but they allow themselves the luxury to wear a nice suit or to have an awesome phone?

My point is that people aren’t always what they seem, and I shouldn’t treat people poorly based on assumptions I make about their life.

People who come into the library want one thing: resources. Why should an assumption I make about their life change how I give them access to those resources?

My job is not to badger the man in the suit who has a lot of fines but never pays them, nor is it my job to make assumptions about any of the library patrons (or anyone else either).

Me working to prepare a Valentine's Day craft program.
Me working to prepare a Valentine’s Day craft program.

My job is to treat everyone with understanding and kindness, and my job is to accept things as they are. I simply have to notify the patron in the suit that they have fines, and I treat them just as I treat the other patrons.

In terms of being understanding and not judgmental, my job is to:

-not make assumptions

-find and provide resources to all of our patrons

-listen to the patrons

-work with them

-serve them, and

-avoid judging them

As with many people, my first instinct is to judge people on first sight even though it’s not something I want to do. However, I have the choice to let my initial judgments rule how I treat people, or I can just follow the saying and treat others the way I would want to be treated.

In my line of work, I have the choice to acknowledge that I am not in the same shoes as the patrons I serve. Their lives differ from mine, and I don’t know what they might be going through (regardless of what they tell me or project to the world).

If we truly are a world that wants equity for everyone, we need to accept that, yes, we make judgments and assumptions about others, but no, we don’t need to allow those judgments to rule how we treat other people.

If we do that, then maybe we will be able to make progress towards an equitable world.

Moral of the story? Let go of our judgments and be more understanding towards other people. After all, we’re all in this whole living thing together; let’s do each other a favor and be good people.

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