Remember This Before Judging Someone Who Annoys You


“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” ~Stephen Covey

It happened again! A different place, a different person. But again, I was outraged! How could I let it go this time?

I was driving home from work, excited about the weekend. As I looked in the rear-view mirror, a bulky four-wheel drive gradually came closer. Next minute, it was right behind me. Another tailgater!

I sped up to shake it off. It stayed with me. I tapped the brake to tell the driver to back off. He came closer!

I was beginning to fume. As I was considering my next move, the car turned off. It was gone. I was left angry, fuming, and worked up.

This happened quite often. But would I ever learn to let it go?

Have you learned to let it go?

Many of us are doing our best to learn to be a better person—be kinder, more accepting, and more mindful, for instance. But when it comes to being less judgmental, it seems that we have a knee-jerk reaction that takes place on its own accord.

It’s true that a certain part of it is due to conditioning and triggers. But if we begin to understand exactly why we judge, we can make space for acceptance and peace with others.

When we are annoyed or upset with someone, it can be explained by the fundamental attribution error. Attribution is when we try to understand the causes of behavior. The problem is that we make errors when we try to make sense of people’s behavior.

Simply put, when we see someone doing something wrong, we think it relates to their personality instead of the situation that the person is in.

“What a jerk!”

“How rude!”

“That is so inconsiderate!”

So how can we let it go? If we acknowledge our attribution errors that are judging personality alone, we can contemplate the situation. In my driving incident, perhaps this driver never tailgates. Maybe he had just been sacked at work, or had an emergency at home.

Wouldn’t you be more understanding then? I should have been, but I never put this idea into practice in my life.

But one day, I was driving to work when up ahead I saw a car slowing down for no apparent reason.

“Okay, what’s going on here?”

I was ready to place my attributions: “What a turkey…. How selfish… You are just a… a….”   … I stopped. It was an L plater. A learner. Oops.

I swallowed my outrage. I shut my mouth. I stayed calm and understanding.

And then it hit me. Aren’t we all L platers—in life?

I knew that the person in front of me was an L plater learning to drive. The only difference with everybody else in the world is that we don’t know what they are learning.

What was the tailgater learning about when he was on my tail? What were the teenagers learning about when they egged my car on Halloween? What was I learning about when I reacted?

We all have struggles. We all have a past. We all have a reason for who we are today. It just can’t be seen like an L plate can.

When people hurt you or do wrong, they are simply making mistakes and learning in their own way to get through life—the best way they have learned to do so with the life they have been given.

As I drove away from the L plate driver, I decided to respond to people differently. Whenever I felt like judging, I would imagine they were wearing a shirt with a big L printed on it.

Learner. Learning life. Making mistakes. Taking wrong turns. Getting lost. Moving forward. Getting stuck in jams. Even writing the darn thing off at times!

It seemed that I had figured it out. I finally began to understand things a little bit better.

I encourage you to give it a try in your own life and see how it helps overcome the need to judge others. You too will begin to realize that L platers are everywhere.

As I drive home from work a few weeks later, I reflected on the fundamental attribution error.

But then…

It happened again!

A different place, a different person.

And this time…

I let it go.

Woman with scales image via Shutterstock

About Steve Chatterton

Steve has a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) and lives in Perth, Western Australia. His writing is driven by a passion for psychology, mindfulness and personal growth to help people live a more fulfilling life.

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