People Aren’t Always Out to Get Us: The Good Beyond Appearances

Waiting for the Train

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” ~Mother Theresa

Last year, I was on the CTA (Chicago’s public transit) heading to class to take an exam. Rather, I should say that I was rushing to class. I wasn’t running late, but I often got caught up in the hustle and bustle of Chicago during morning rush hour.

Something about the “rush hour” energy made me feel a bit anxious; and, although I, along with others, am at the mercy of the CTA with its frequent delays, rarely do riders strike up conversations with fellow passengers.

After making my usual transfer to another train line, I was able to find a free seat (which is hard to come by during rush hour), and I sat down.

I acknowledged the woman I was sitting near just enough to immediately write her off as being someone I wanted to ignore. She looked at me and smiled, and I gave a half smile back but turned slightly away to make it clear that I didn’t want to engage in chit-chat.

I am a warm person, hardly ever without a smile, and usually very open, but I was having a day where I just felt nonchalant toward other people, and the last thing I wanted was to feel “trapped” in a conversation with a “lowly” woman on the train who might pester me for money.

I pulled out my textbook, clutch in hand, to begin “reviewing” for my exam.

She began engaging me in small talk, and, after a few minutes, my disposition changed. My short answers became longer, and I became genuinely interested in what she had to say.

A year or so later, I have forgotten the specifics of everything she said to me, but I remember getting off the train feeling light-hearted after she told me a bit about her life. We had a short but beautiful conversation.

I got off at my stop, walked the couple of blocks to class, and entered the classroom when I realized I left my clutch on the train.

No time is a good time to lose your wallet, but I was leaving for the Middle East soon and would have to replace everything before my trip.


“Distract someone with small talk in hopes they’ll leave something behind,” a peer commented when I retold the story (after the incident had played out). I actually felt a bit at ease despite the situation, and the thought of trickery didn’t even pass my mind.

My professor excused me, and I headed back to the station, chalking it up to my carelessness, thinking, “I’ve really got to slow down. What was I rushing for at any rate? Life is not about rushing.”

I got to the station, and as I explained that I’d forgotten my wallet/clutch, they informed me that a woman had notified a CTA employee—just as the train left the station where I’d gotten off—that someone had left a clutch on the train, and that I’d gotten off at the specific stop.

I rode the train to its last stop where all the lost and found items are dropped. When the CTA employees handed me my wallet, everything was inside.

I learned a few valuable lessons that day—for one, not to prejudge someone's character because of their appearance; always be open because you never know who will be in a position to lend a helping hand.

At times, living in the city, it becomes so normal to ignore each other and to write each other off. I am so thankful to have had a humbling experience that showed me that when we allow ourselves to slow down and be receptive to others, we can learn from. And, we can be helped by people from all walks of life.

This experience reminded me (and may remind you) to:

Slow down.

We expect everything to be instant. In fact, when something is “new and improved,” it is always faster. We miss out when we live our lives like this. The quality of our lives cannot be measured by their speed. Rushing produces shallowness because you never have time to dig beneath the surface of another person.

Try to minimize criticism and judgment.

Be aware when you’re judging another. Deeply consider the roots of judgments. Respond to others with compassion rather than reacting on a fearful or indifferent impulse. 

Be more receptive and approachable. 

We all have those days when we feel like we don’t want to be bothered with others. While I strongly advocate quality alone-time, I feel that when we're agitated by others, that's usually when a smile or a kind word from someone else can go a long way.

Be open to others’ kindness. Live with a sense of curiosity; every moment is an opportunity for connecting and learning.

Photo by Rodrigo Basaure

About Ameena L. Payne

Ameena L. Payne is a soul learning to follow its Divine Path—passionate about encouraging mindful living and social responsibility. The activities I involve myself in are always an expression of the essential part of the person I am—connected, positive, creative, and adventurous. Together we rise in consciousness.

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  • Well said.

  • Jeffrey Willius

    What a great experience, Ameena! I find myself often creating my own reality in how I see others. Try to remind myself that the &@#*%! woman who just cut me off in traffic may have just found out her child’s been hurt at school and is rushing to get there. I want and need to expect the best in everything…

  • Wow! This article could’ve been wrote specifically for me! I get on transit daily and daily, I ignore people around me. I could be across from my mother and wouldn’t notice. I also judge a lot of people. And if I catch them watching me, I assume they are judging me (don’t think that irony was lost on me!) It’s so true that we judge and make unfair assumptions. I do it daily. I think we are often brought up to not trust strangers, assume the worst of people and just mind our own business….but it seems like a pretty lonely and limited existence. Great article! Loved it.

  • That’s a great point! Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to step back and give people the benefit of the doubt and hope they would do the same for us. But some days, it’s difficult to put this logic into practice..

  • Thank you, Jeff. All the best to you!

  • Michelle, I am so glad that the article resonated with you. Your comments are really spot on in regards to what I learned through this experience. Essentially, no matter one’s ‘status’ each of us still has the ability to be a positive influence! In my opinion, if each of us commits to being aware of each other, lead a life of love and compassion, at all times, for all people, others will follow suit.

  • Thank you, Jeffrey, for your comment! I love that choice of phrase – ‘creating my own reality in how I see others’. This is absolutely the case. However, in each of us, there is a soul that is eternal, cognizant, and blissful, and you never know who will meet the right conditions to be able to lend a helping hand.

  • thanks for sharing Ameena = a few good lessons here. NOt to judge a person by their cover, to give everyone a fair shot, to stop judging people. Lessons we can apply every day in our lives in every situation – be it a public area or even friends. I think recognition of of our judging behavior is the first step to doing something about it.

  • I love the message that we need to slow down. Society tells us everything has to be bigger and faster including our cars, phones, and computers. We bounce around like ping pong balls, and miss the daily miracles happening all around us. Thanks Amanda, for reminding us we need to stop, admire and smell those roses!