The only kind of cat fight I enjoy.

There is this great man I knew. We’ll call him John.  Because that was his name.

I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my career but probably none so challenging as serving as a facilitator for company-union labor negotiations.  It was an emotional and bruising experience.

The first time I met John, a union official, he told me within five minutes that he didn’t like me. He went on to explain that I was a “company man” and so he would always distrust and dislike me, no matter what.  This really pissed me off.

But truth be told, I didn’t like John either. He spoke in this thick, hick accent and I judged him to be an uneducated rube blindly following orders from shady union bosses who filed costly and ridiculous claims about work rules just to stonewall our progress and manipulate the negotiations.

Over a few days, John and I got to know each other better through the facilitated activities and over long lunches where we talked about our lives and families.

After the third day, he came up to me at a break and said, “I was wrong about you.  I just assumed all company people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. You weren’t. You had to work for everything. I think the real reason I hated you is because I was jealous.  You worked hard and got somewhere.  I never did that.”

I’m sure the look of shock on my face was apparent.

But I also realized that over those days I had gained a new respect for him, too. I learned that John had been dragged through 39 different schools over his 12 grades of schooling.  He never really had a chance for a meaningful education or any close friendships during his entire childhood. He had bravely tried to salvage his alcoholic father, even when the man was waving a loaded gun at him as a child.  And John had become a great husband, father and grandfather who always had some new pictures of the kids to show me.  He was a lovely, caring man, forged by a lifetime of suffering.

I felt ashamed at how I had judged John.  Getting to know the real man was a life-changing discussion and I swore never to make rash judgments about people again.  I have never forgotten John’s “back story” and how my initial impressions were so unfair and wrong.

Through technology like the social web, it is easier than ever to make judgments about people. Usually we only see a little avatar and some written words. Maybe a phone call if we’re lucky. The technology is a convenient way to avoid personal contact.  And yet, I so often hear people putting others in categories they don’t deserve based on partial information.

From John, I learned that we really don’t know a person until we have walked in their shoes. We don’t know where they have been.  We don’t know how they have suffered.

You know, everybody starts out as this pure little baby with unlimited goodness and potential.  Then a lifetime of hurt and crap builds up around them and who knows what it does to somebody.

There are a lot of people I know who I wish had their own “John” moment.  The cattiness and politics on the social web can be so disgusting.  It’s too easy to give “hit and run” feedback without thinking about the person behind the avatar.  Sometimes I feel like I’m watching “The Real Housewives of Facebook.”

I’m not going to accomplish much with this post.  Catty bitchy people will probably be catty bitchy people whether they read this or not and I realize this post is not going to provide a life-changing moment.  Maybe it’s more of a vent for me because sometimes people make the most audacious and hurtful assumptions and accusations when they don’t even know me.  It sickens me.

When our relationship is limited to 140-character sound bites, we really don’t know each other.  Let’s give each other a break, OK?  Love one another, even when it’s hard to understand.

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