Less than a year ago I was heading back home on the subway at night when a man who appeared to be homeless got on the train.
Normally I wouldn’t notice anything (a homeless person in the NYC subway system isn’t exactly a rare sighting), but this man wasn’t acting normally.
As soon as he got on the subway, he began kicking around small bits of trash that were on the floor. Then he got down on his hands and knees and started sweeping any leftover debris under the seats toward one side of the train. No one else was on the train, besides a woman sitting across from me.
I shot her a glance and noticed that she was trying to ignore the commotion despite the concerned look on her face.
As the man continued pacing around on the train and kicking around trash, my mind started to race. Was he going to do something to me or to that woman? Was I going to have to defend her?
I avoided making eye contact so that he wouldn’t approach me. At the next stop, I saw him get off the train through my periphery and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank god that was over.
But, once the train started moving again, I noticed that the man had gotten on the subway car next to mine and was doing the same thing. He was gathering trash. It made no sense.
I continued watching the man until the next stop when I saw him pick up his piles of trash, quickly run off the train, dump them in the trash can, then rush back on before the doors closed.
I looked around my subway car and noticed that all the trash he had collected on one side of the train was gone. Then it hit me.
Oh my god. He was cleaning the train.
I’ve never felt so embarrassed. Here I was thinking that this man might harm me or someone else, yet he was providing a valuable service to society free of charge.
I was judging this man with my negative thoughts while he was making the world a better place and getting absolutely no credit for it. I felt like an idiot and vowed to never make that mistake again.
Many times in life you’ll have the opportunity to assume negative intent in others.
Don’t do it.
You’ll often be wrong and even when you are right, assuming negativity all the time is no way to go through life. Most people don’t want to wrong you.
Keep this in mind before rushing to judgment. After all, one man’s trash isn’t always what it seems.