It was a beautiful restaurant, the kind where you know the food will be good because the smell is so wonderful from the minute you walk through the door.

At the next table, a group of 5. They seemed familiar with each other, like good friends or family, but not couples that was clear. The minute they sat down they routed around in their pockets and bags and took out mobile phones.

One after another the immersed themselves in their private screens, ignoring the menus and each other. The waiter came by with a jug of water, no they were not ready to order.

So, I think I know what you’re thinking. It’s what I would usually assume too. These people are insane. Here they are in a gorgeous place, and they’re too busy to even notice. They’re not talking, not interacting – what has the world come to.

Familiar right. We make these judgements all the time. Like we know every thing about total strangers that just happen to be sitting at the next table.

Like we are morally superior to them because we would never ignore our dinner partners, we would pay attention to the beautiful place and the inviting menus, we would interact with the waiter.

But wait, let me tell you what really happened…because I was one of the party of 5 that night.

We had noticed the restaurant earlier, as we walked a few other streets looking for a place to stop. The decor was tasteful and there were enough people already there to know that we were lucky to get a table without a booking. We had been traveling all day, without knowing where we would land up this evening so had no chance to make any bookings.

We had been staying in a beautiful cottage for the last 4 days. Spacious, comfortable but no wifi. We were on a very special vacation, away from our partners and kids, away from work, out of touch, living every precious moment, knowing that this may never happen again.

When we found the restaurant, it was the first time we had hit wifi in about 26 hours – there were kids to catch before they went to sleep, partners to check in with, the odd email that needed to be responded to.

Hence the total immersion for the first 20 minutes after we arrived there.

And during those moments I raised my head and looked around the restaurant. I saw those furtive glances, the judgment, the disgust. And I recognized myself in them.

How often I have judged others for being, what I determined was, disengaged. How often I have felt morally superior while I pretend to be fully engaged even when my mind was elsewhere.

It’s so easy to assume we know the full story. When in truth, we have no idea of what anyone else is experiencing or how present they are.

How easy we judge. I know I’m guilty.

I really learned a lesson that day. To back off, to quit judging, to accept that we’re all doing our best and that I should stay in my own business.

The food was wonderful. We drank some wine. We finished with our calls and emails, our ‘checking in’… and we spent more great time together.

I’m so grateful that I got the chance to see myself through other people’s eyes, just for that moment. It showed me a part of myself that I’m not so fond of.

I think it’s time to let go of all that judgement – to try to make a kinder world.

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2 comments on “They didn’t even look up from their phones…

  1. One day I was driving in intensive Toronto traffic, when I caught up to and couldn’t get around a driver going well below the speed limit. I could feel my ire rising and began to mouth uncharitable epithets for the slow driver. Then what came out of my mouth shocked me. I said, “That man could be my brother.” It hit me that I knew nothing about his person or his circumstances, and yet I was judging him. And in the process I had become less present with my driving.

    My life changed in that instant. Without judgment, driving several hours a day in often stop-and-go traffic became a meditative experience. Thirty years later I still often use driving time to meditate.

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