I have been thinking a lot about the judgments people make regarding others. The impetus for this meditation is three-fold. I have been reading a book I received as a Christmas gift titled Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi, I recently saw Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic, and I also recently had a conversation about the unceasing tabloid coverage surrounding Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. All of which made me think about the judgments we make everyday about others.
Reading Lolita in Tehran was written by a liberal Iranian English literature professor about her life under the Ayatollah and his successors in post-revolutionary Iran. It is marginally about a secret, underground book club she started with a select group of female students after she was removed from her teaching position for being too radical. What it is really about is finding sanity in a world turned upside down, in a world where you are marginalized and judged because of your second X chromosome. A world where edicts by the ruling elite are final and disagreement is treason.
Walk the Line is a Johnny Cash biopic, but it is also about his wife June Carter Cash. The scene that struck me involves June Carter, recovering from a bitter divorce from her first husband, shopping in a small Mom & Pop store on a tour stop in the early 1960’s. Carter came from a well known Christian family, famous for its singing and performing. A woman who is also shopping recognizes Carter and tells her how much she admires Carter’s parents. Carter says she will tell her parents. The woman then says she is surprised that the elder Carters, being “good Christians,” still communicate with their daughter after her divorce. The woman continues berating Carter by saying marriage is ordained of God and permanent. She then walks away, leaving Carter extremely discomfited and on the verge of tears.
Finally, during a party this weekend, the topic of the tabloid fodder that is the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie triangle came up. People had different opinions and I played devil’s advocate, but really, I have never met any of the parties and I know nothing about what went on and neither did anyone else in that conversation. In fact, I have tried to avoid knowing anything, but merely standing in line at the grocery store means at least one 72 pt. font headline forces its way into one’s conscious. Which means everyone has an opinion about who wronged whom and who is at fault and who should be ostracized from society and who should receive our sympathy. Only three people know the truth and frenzied speculation will not uncover it.
What reflecting on these experiences produced was the idea that we can never know what is going on inside someone’s head. Ever. Even if we try to communicate, we are still flummoxed by different interpretations of the meaning of words. To observe and to converse gives us only an inkling as to what goes on inside the head of others. To believe that we can pass judgment on another because of something we see or read is hubris beyond belief. I am not suggesting we shouldn’t discern between right and wrong, or that we can’t protect ourselves from harmful individuals. But there is a difference between choosing and condemning. And we haven’t the right to condemn.