I love swimming. I love it to the point of arrogance and to a point where I observe other swimmers. I am not shy to make strong judgements about their swimming. Every morning, I mentally identify each of the regulars into good, bad, sloppy, funny and sometimes a good swimmer.

My busy morning routine doesn’t give me the flexibility to interact casually with my swimming peers. I can safely say that I know most of them only by their demographics. Lately, due to very bad back pain, I have been taking intermittent breaks while swimming. The pauses in my swim routine got me to talk to some of them, beyond basic courtesies. It was interesting and almost surprising to see a lot of good advice coming from people on the skill that I thought I was almost perfect in.

So why do we always wear a judging hat and proclaim a verdict? We do it always and all the time.

On April 12, 2018, two black men were arrested while waiting for their friend at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. Their crime -waiting for a friend, apparently. The incident caught on film shows the two men being placed in handcuffs by police officers, while confused customers tried to ask what exactly had gone wrong. The incident sparked a lot of justifiable anger and resulted in an apology a few days later from both Starbucks and the Philadelphia police chief. On May 292018, all outlets of Starbucks were closed for bias training for its 175,000 employees. The organizations stated that systemic racism and bias is bigger than one partner, one store or one company. They were shutting stores for training to recognize that they had the responsibility to be part of the solution. The effects of the training will be visible in time and with a sustained effort from the management who seem to be serious in tackling this issue.

My story and the Starbucks incident both have a common thread. Judging and decision making without realisation. In my case, my arrogance about swimming techniques, leading me to be aloof and putting myself on a higher pedestal vis-à-vis others. In the other case, the white man’s judgement plausibly based on experience, automatically connecting dots and jumping to conclusion that‘two black men sitting idle’ equals ‘trouble’.

So how do we stop doing this to ourselves? I have practised this and it has helped me mitigate my jumping to conclusions impulsively.

1)Reach out,

2) establish a connect by talking about yourself, (or…by being approachable)

3) Pause and just listen to others.

Inertia in reaching out is the biggest hurdle for most of us. Sometimes we don’t have the confidence or sometimes we are plain lazy. But once the first step is taken, then establishing a rapport by sharing and showing vulnerability is the next step. That helps in building trust and helps the other person to be more forthcoming in helping out. Finally, listening without offering counter views will help in giving a message that one is serious. This will also help us get to know newer ways of looking at the same scenario.

I recently got to know of the ‘human library’ where It’s set up just like a normal library. One gets to check out a “book” on a certain topic and has an allotted amount of time with it. The only difference being, at the Human Library the book is the human.

People who volunteer to become “books” make their experiences open and available, usually on issues that people tend to have a difficult time discussing. “Readers” are encouraged to ask questions freely, and they will get honest answers in return. I think this is a great way to explore deep-rooted structures in our mind and also have an honest conversation to get clarity on thoughts and ideas.

Organizations like these help in strengthening the way we take in and process information. It helps us to interact and question the basic tenets of expression and beliefs. You might not find a human library in your locality, but you do have a lot of people from diverse backgrounds and thoughts who you should reach out regularly. This will help create and spread a more equitable world.

Here is a famous quote ‘The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence’. So are we judging today?