Sitting in the Seat of Judgment

White chair in an empty roomI was sitting in my first class seat coming back from travels in Sioux Falls. I had the pleasure of getting upgraded due to my recent status on the airline. I’ve walked past the first class passengers many times, sometimes questioning and curious “who these people were” sitting up here–where the service is constant and the bathroom is private!

I sat down in my seat of 1D, which quickly became a seat of judgment for me. The woman next to me was chatting on the phone with a work colleague. Her tone was contempt, direct, bossy, and not at all what I’d consider compassionate. I couldn’t help but wonder, is this woman getting any results at all from this person she’s speaking to this way? Sheesh! 

The conversation seemed to drag on. Since we were the first on the plane, I sat through quite a bit of the conversation while everyone passed us to get back to the economy seats. Now, I’m sure the judgment turned on me as people walked by. What’s this pregnant lady, dressed in super-casual clothing doing up here? I bet she’s a snob! 

I saw with my face down reading Brene Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me – But It Isn’t book. As much as I wanted to read it and comprehend the words on the page, I couldn’t help but to be drawn to the conversation that was taking place next to me.

Immediately, my thoughts turned to judgment. This woman, I had determined, was one of those “high-power-leader-types-that-uses-force-to-get-what-she-wants.” She probably bought her first class seat too! I doubt she’ll even look at me the entire flight. How did I get stuck next to this person? I contemplated changing seats. There was still an open first class seat in 2B. Should I switch??

Then, something inside of me told me to stay put. I was seated here for a reason. Okay, what lesson should I be learning today? 

The boarding was almost complete and this woman’s conversation progressed. I quickly began to see that what she was talking about was making her very uncomfortable. I could see she was troubled. Her hands were a bit shaky, and they hadn’t been before. Her voice had a tremble.

The door to the plane closed. The flight attendant announced that all electronic devices needed to be turned off.

“Okay, I’ve got to go, my plane is taking off,” said the woman. She hung up her phone and powered done. Then, she grabbed the InFlight magazine and started turning the pages at a rapid pace. I knew it wasn’t a normal way to look at a magazine, and then she stopped. I knew that feeling– looking like you are reading something, but what’s really happening is a full on conversation in your head. Words on the page are there to take up space so you aren’t staring into the ether.

I struggled internally for quite a few moments about what to do. Do I say something or do I let this be? She could totally snub me? What if she tells me to mind my own business? What if I’ve then got 90 minutes next to someone who is pissed off at me? Ugh…Andrea you are about connection–get it together. 

And then it came out, “Is everything okay?” I asked.

She looked at me and in the moment we just connected. Our eyes locked and tears swelled in her eyes. At first she said, “Yeah, it’s okay.” But, I reached out to her rubbing her shoulder and patting her, and there she poured open her heart, tears flowing, and the words too. It was her boss. He had it out for her. She felt she was on her way out. A job she loved and had worked hard to create. I cried with her. I saw her pain. Felt her distress.

It was in that moment I got the lesson for myself.

Judgments are rarely, if ever true. They are simply made up stories we tell ourselves about other people, especially the people who are exhibiting behavior that we’ve deemed as bad, inappropriate, mean or otherwise. We separate ourselves from others by assessing people’s behaviors and words without really knowing what’s going on behind them.

Come to find out, this woman did get an upgrade to first class, was a total connector herself, and was simply having a conversation from a place of fear where she was using her defenses to save her job.

We talked the whole 90 minute flight. We held hands for at least 30 minutes of that time.

If I had never said anything or risked opening up myself, I would have sat there sitting in the seat of judgment that entire time, completely missing an opportunity to create a human connection. I would have left in my world of assumptions about a person I didn’t know, but instead I got insight into my own thinking and a reiterated lesson that things aren’t always what they seem.

Have you ever made judgments or assumptions about someone only to be proved wrong? Share your stories below. 

3 thoughts on “Sitting in the Seat of Judgment

  1. Jan says:

    I ponder what I would have done in that situation. I might have stayed in the place of judgment. I hope not. I am becoming aware of the importance of objective observation, not passing judgment on an experience but rather allowing myself to soak it all in. That is part of the book The Empathy Factor. Thank you for the reminder to show compassion first and do not judge!

  2. Andrea says:


    If I wasn’t reading Brene’s book and the Empathy Factor I probably would’ve stayed in the seat of judgment. That’s why I believe it’s so important to constantly put ourselves in situations where we are reminded of how to be compassionate, practice it, and continue learning about it!

    🙂 Andrea

  3. Kathy says:

    What a great story! I wasn’t sure where you were heading with it at first, but wow….what a great turn of events you created. It reminds me that we are all deliciously different and yet we are all divinely connected. You truly embody the beauty of making connections, Andrea! 🙂

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