We Think We Know What’s Going On . . . .

You may know this story, but I think it’s always worth reviewing.

A woman returning home from overseas had an extended layover in an airport in Europe. To help pass the time, she bought a carton of milk, a package of cookies, and a newspaper. With her arms full made her way to a waiting area where there was a small table with seats on either side. A few minutes later, as she was reading the paper, she heard the rustling of the cellophane wrapping on the box of cookies. Peeking over her paper, she was stunned to see a young man helping himself to a cookie. Not wanting to confront him directly, she shot him a dirty look and reached over pointedly and took a cookie. He smiled. A moment or two later, more rustling of paper. He was helping himself to another cookie. She shot him another dirty look and took another cookie. And so it continued until there was only one cookie left in the package. She was very angry but still did not have the nerve to say anything. Suddenly the man looked at her, smiled, took the last cookie, broke it in half, and handed half to her. Absolutely infuriated, the woman got up and stomped off. About an hour later, when the public address system called her flight, she opened her purse to find her ticket. And there was the package of cookies she had purchased earlier.

I remember the way I felt the first time I heard this story. Of course, I thought I knew what was going on until the punch line. Then it was as if the shape of the world changed. The man eating the cookies went from being a chump to a saint.

It might seem that the obvious moral of the story is not to judge. But those of you who know me are aware that I speak and write regularly about the need to make judgments so we can effectively use our agency and so we can be appropriately discerning (see Moroni 7:14-16 and THIS speech by Elder Dallin H. Oaks). So how do you think we reconcile these two imperatives—recognizing that we seldom know all the facts and yet recognizing the need and responsibility to judge?

  1. Pops says:

    I don’t know if I would say there’s a different kind of judgment or just different degrees. The correct judgment in the case of the woman at the airport would have been to ask the man why he was eating her cookies. Instead she concluded that he was a jerk. There’s a certain open-mindedness and humility in the former that is missing in the latter. That’s how I see it.

    “We should be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains fall out.” [I have no idea who said this first.]

  2. Lili says:

    I like that.

    I think, too, that where possible (thought admittedly not always possible), judging behaviors rather than condemning people can be safer–as in, “Eating someone else’s cookies without permission is wrong,” not “That guy’s a jerk.”

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