A couple of months ago my son Calum decided he is a skater. This is a kid who would stay inside and play video games all day everyday if we let him so it’s been exciting to see him latch on to an outdoor activity.
We’re fortunate here in Newberg to have an awesome skate park and lately we’ve been heading down there once or twice a week so he can practice. While we were there the other day something strange happened that I won’t soon forget.
As I sat at my usual spot at one of the picnic tables a couple of big pickup trucks tore into the gravel parking lot, rocks flying and music blaring. One of them was even flying a huge confederate flag from the truck bed.
Immediately my judgement and protective meters lit up.
In a semi-rural town like Newberg a scene like this isn’t all that unusual but definitely not expected at the skate park. Sure, skaters can be a rough bunch but these guys would have looked more at home driving their 4×4’s through the mud in the countryside or on a opossum hunt late at night.
I wondered “what in the heck could these guys be doing here? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.” I was nervous for my kids and, because to me at least, the confederate flag can be seen as a racist symbol, I was also nervous for the young Latino kids hanging out at the park.
As the guys got out of their trucks, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, I got my first surprise when I saw they were carrying skateboards. “So they are here to skate after all! This should be entertaining” I thought.
My second surprise came when they started skating and were actually pretty good! They had clearly been at it for a while and were fun to watch.
A few minutes later as I was already feeling a little ashamed for so quickly judging them my preconceptions were totally turned upside down.
I noticed one of the little Latino boys was stuck in the skate park and couldn’t climb out while holding on to his scooter. One of the truck guys skated over and grabbed the scooter for him so he could climb out. A couple of minutes later the other guy went up to the boy, asked him what his name was and asked him for a high five. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, a couple minutes later the same guy saw my son struggling with a new trick and went over to offer some tips to help him learn it.
I was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been.
I consider myself a pretty open-minded and accepting person and I’m surprised and embarrassed at how quickly I put those guys in a box and had my guard up without even giving them a chance. Certainly a little caution is good at times, especially when it comes to protecting kids, but my thoughts went well beyond that in this circumstance.
I’m sure we all do that at times without even noticing. I wonder what it would be like if we tried to notice this tendency in ourselves more. What if we tried to be more aware of our biases and to give people a chance before we judge them?
What if we took time to observe and get to know people and discover what is under the surface before we put them in a box?
It is a simple idea but it can be really hard. We’re all raised with beliefs and prejudices that are deeply ingrained. The experience at the skate park reminded me of how they exist in my life and I’m often not aware of them.
I think becoming more aware is the first step.
If we can at least acknowledge how judgement exists within ourselves I think we’ve taken an important step towards being more gracious and loving and to hopefully eradicating some of these false beliefs from our lives.