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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  • Jackie

    Hi, I really enjoyed your article and think it’s a great way to think about people…except…my future mother-in-law, I just can’t help thinking that she’s never going to learn!! How do I let that go? She’s so proud of her enabling behaviors, and all I can think is that I’ve spent the past 2 1/2 years undoing the damage she caused her son and the conflict it caused in our relationship. I’d love to think she’s still learning, but I don’t think she’ll ever learn!! Well, thanks for letting me vent, at least 🙂

  • Leraine

    Wow this article really gave me a “aha” moment. Very nice and thank you so very much 🙂

  • Erika c

    Wow, possibly one of the best and I hope, most impactful articles I have ever read. Thank you so much!

  • Julia

    Is L plate for learner? We don’t have those in the states. Student driver cars are sometimes marked. But not always.

    I have embarked on a journey to zen but I have found driving to be my tough spot to conquer. So this is apropos for me. I tend to assign motive to every bad driver around me. Good article.

  • Todd Chance

    Solid advice for those dealing with high conflict or narcissistic personalities…it isn’t easy but it’s the best thing you can learn to do.

  • Brandovibe

    The best thing you can learn to do when dealing with a narc is to get away from them. Why would you want to stay and always be on edge around them? That then becomes a form of self abuse and you should maybe uestion why you continue to subject yourself to it..

  • Tamara

    How does this work for your roommate seeming to ignore the full trash can, full dishwasher, and full sink? I come home from rehearsal and he’s been sitting on the couch all night, watching netflix and glued to facebook. What exception should I make for that behavior? I do believe it is an inherent personality flaw, called laziness and I can’t get over it. This is someone who was my best friend before he moved in, now I can barely tolerate him.

  • Don Dressel

    How about when your wife packs up and leaves after you have treated her like a gem? You end up losing everything you have worked hard for?

  • catherine

    Then you have a much bigger picture to look at. A deep journey into yourself to see what you brought to the relationship even though you thought you treated her like a ‘gem’. Lots of questions to ponder like why you were attracted to her in the first place. After the pain subsides a little, it becomes a great learning opportunity..

  • Don Dressel

    Thank you! I was pushing every woman away and she walked into my life and I fell hard as she is a beautiful woman but is very insecure
    As she needs attention from other men all the time.
    I know it is hard now but I have a great income and my little Jack Russell and we will move on together!

  • Louise

    This post completely resonates with me! I cycle around the city and recently for some reason I have has a slew of drivers honk me to get out of the way or yell at me for no apparent reason, as fAr as I knew I was just tootling along in my cycle lane. I really hate that anger is the first emotion I jump to in these situation, anger and indignance ‘but I wasn’t doing anything wrong, what’s there problem!’ It’s a reflex I can’t avoid this feeling just swells in my chest and then I dwell on it! So I’ve been trying to reframe it, trying to see the best in people rather than the worst. Maybe that woman who honked right behind then then sped past me was in a hurry because she has a sick child she needed to get to the doctor. We don’t know people’s daily struggles and they don’t know our, so yes, we should always assume people are learning something. Whether they are or not is irrelevant to your own piece of mind and it saves you from feelings of anger that can ruin your day!

  • Maria

    When someone tailgates it’s better to slow down so that they can pass.

  • Jeannie Barry Sawyer

    The lesson is to learn that material things do not bring happiness or love; while the end of a marriage is painful it allows you to start a new chapter and rediscover the REAL you that will only allow themselves to share space with someone that will treat them as they are treated.
    Peace, Love & Angels

  • Eb

    Sometimes the narcissist is a loved one and you chose not to abandon them. I agree it’s abuse unless you can establish healthy boundaries, gaurding the boundaries tooth & nail.
    A narcissistic person isn’t lost.

  • Eb

    Showing compassion is fine, but not at the expense of allowing our own boundaries to be violated. This becomes the habit of putting others needs ahead of our own – and can create internal conflict.

    I agree with empathy and considering the perspective of the other person. But suggesting overlooking teens who egg a car to fit in this exercise as a “learning experience” at my cost? Personal boundaries are an extremely important tool.

  • Heather Ferreira

    Great article. But move to Los Angeles and drive here. We’ll quickly knock that altruism out of you.

    Sometimes a jerk is a jerk. It’s high time we stop sugarcoating sociopathy in others and making excuses for narcissists. All of us are learners. Most of us try to be considerate anyway. BAD PEOPLE CAN CHOOSE TO BE, ALSO. DEAR LIGHT SEEDS: STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR EVIL.

  • Steve Chatterton

    Hi Eb, I agree with you that boundaries should not be violated. I’m certainly not suggesting to overlook things, but rather consider things from a bigger perspective and be open to questioning our own conclusions. Personal bias based on filling in the gaps on what we don’t know is a large factor in attribution errors, and we do this automatically. It’s why road rage is so common. Knowing a bit more on how we form our judgments means we react less, but sill take action and maintain healthy boundaries. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Steve Chatterton

    Hi Tamara, definitely don’t make exceptions for other’s behaviour. You should take action if it is making you unhappy… but don’t avoid it. Be direct and bring it in the open. I know it can be hard, but it will help to resolve it – and it sounds like you are not communicating right now and have no idea why this behavior is happening.

    When we are upset with strangers, we do not have the opportunity to understand them which is why we form judgments and create attribution errors. But you have the chance to sit down and talk it through, find out the facts rather than just assuming. I have had my fair share of houemate conflicts in the past, but when you sit down with a genuine interest to preserve the friendship, you will often find that the conflict resolves and the friendship becomes even stronger.

  • Steve Chatterton

    Thanks for sharing Julia. Yes here in Australia we have L platers. I agree with you driving is the tough spot for many of us. As such, it’s the perfect field for mindfulness. All the best with your continuing journey!

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  • Lady Gubbeen

    This is probably what I really needed to read right now; I had a baby four months ago and even though she’s the sun of my life, exhaustion and stress often make me lose patience and react badly to some of her cries, some of her reactions, even though I know I shouldn’t. Of course I’d never do anything wrong to her, but when I lose my cool I feel guilty, it stresses her out, and I know nothing is her fault, I know it. I’m gonna try to picture the L sign on her tummy every time I feel bad, to remember she’s come a long way and is still learning every-fucking-thing on Earth, it should be fascinating, not annoying.

  • Sue

    Hi Don. Some of what I say might seem odd but I’ve been in her shoes…… Being treated like a gem is not always what we women want, although it does depend upon how you’re defining treating someone like a gem. From seeing my girlfriends great relationships, what I see consistently is best friends who are in love and make love. Neither one putting either on a pedestal. Were you ‘best friends’ with her? Maybe she sought affection elsewhere because her needs were not being met. Maybe she recognised you were trying to treat her well and did not want to hurt your feelings by telling you that your niceness was not working with her. Maybe she wanted or needed her lover just to be her best friend. Sue

  • Don Dressel

    We are still together as we own a home together and have four dogs and a cat.
    I have reinvented myself and have lost weight and working out more and have become more independent.
    She told me that she felt that she had lost her independence.
    I have met a few other women but try not to lead them on.
    I am honest with my situation and need to finish my drama with her so if we do seperate I will be ready for another relationship and be more of a whole person

  • Barbara

    Okay, so an “L-plater” might not know better. But most people do know better and regardless of their circumstances, their life history, their personality quirks, and other things, they should not deliberately hurt other people. Especially the people they call their friends. I had a so-called friend whom I poured my heart out to about a man I was interested in who told me that he wasn’t interested in me. A week later, she’s got his phone number and is texting him and inviting him to dinner. Do her actions show respect for me or my feelings? No? Then why should I give her the benefit of the doubt?

  • Don Dressel

    I agree yes I have learned a lot from all of this