What would happen if tomorrow morning you woke up to find yourself having zero judgments — none whatsoever — about you, the universe, or anything in it (including other living beings)?
What modern or ancient dangers lurk for someone who has no awareness of the need to avoid them? What if you had no reason to be mindful with things as benign-looking as crossing the street or getting too close to a rattlesnake, diving into a deep and expansive body of water, or drinking a toxic substance like Drano from a bottle? Which judgments bring us more safety or benefit from heeding them rather than being ignorant to them? Which judgments, if absent, would result in almost certain pain, suffering, or death?
In that same vein, which judgments, if shed, would reveal entirely wonderful or stunning realizations or experiences? Which judgments keep us back from really potent opportunities to connect with ourselves and others, or imprison us, keeping us from gaining life experiences which almost universally benefit those who embrace them? What new beauties would we find, which experiences might we finally enjoy, what people or groups would brighten our lives?
We are all looking for those things which provide safety from pain or, alternatively, opportunities for pleasure. Keeping track of this data takes up a healthy portion of our memory. But have you ever wondered what happens if we re-examine the objects in that virtual rolodex of “dos” and “don’ts”? Daryl Davis did just that, and may be able to shed some light on what is possible when we deeply challenge existing cultural and personal belief or certainty.
You see, Daryl decided to question the long-held judgments made by people inside or outside of his community. He even challenged the answers conjured up by his own mind about his place in the world around him, and why it often feels like a place of unwelcomeness for him. Rather than accept the answers, or even to imagine up personal answers for himself, he decided to revisit the question humans have long claimed certainty around: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
Many ask this question, and most often, the answers seem to be rooted in ethnocentric thinking: I hate you because you’re inferior; I mistreat you because you’re ignorant; I attack you because you’re evil; I avoid you because you’re dangerous; I criticize you because you’re wrong. But really, these answers can all trace their root back to one, simple expression: I am afraid of you because you’re not familiar — because you’re not enough like me. Few humans, it seems, stop to question the answers they’re given. His question was unique, perhaps only because it was asked more out of sincerity rather than sarcasm. I get the strong sense that Daryl wasn’t merely searching for a rhetorical question to accompany a pre-determined answer, as is so often the case.
I admire Daryl’s courage and humility in refusing to assume that he knew what motivated someone he knew little or nothing about. Rather than returning the favor of judgment and ignorance, he entered into a potentially treacherous relationship with humility and grace. Above all, he allowed himself to trust and nurture his deeper curiosity and wonder, and out of that came this incredible result of two willing men discovering their own humanity where they least expected it.
What would happen if we all laid down our judgment — shed outside opinion — long enough to at least understand, and know “the truth” about something foreign for ourselves? If Daryl’s experience is any indication, then the answer is more vibrant and enlightening than most of us might believe.
Thank you Daryl. I have something better to aim for in my own character because of you.