We had been discussing the issue of hard-line community attitudes towards Muslims over the dinner table. I was quite chuffed when my daughter Laura told me, in the course of this discussion, that I was the most non-judgmental person of anyone that she had ever met. Whilst being enormously pleased with her declaration, I was under no illusion. Almost everyone, including myself, carries the invisible baggage of our prejudices with us through life. Sadly, I had to face up to this reality just a few weeks later.
Laura and I had boarded our flight in Fiji to fly back to Melbourne, when one of the passengers came up the aisle and sat down in a seat across from us. He was a large, unkempt bloke wearing shabby, loose-fitting jeans and a T-shirt with a slogan and picture of a motorbike on the back of it. He had a few days’ stubble on his face.
Bloody petrol-head, I thought to myself. Being of the tree hugging persuasion myself, I have a somewhat negative attitude towards petrol-heads. The fact that some hoon had done wheelies and snakies a fortnight earlier on the sodden lawn of the lovely park that I pass on my daily walk had done nothing to endear me to such people.
Once the flight was on its way a little girl crossed the aisle and sat down on the empty seat next to this fellow. He opened a picture book and quietly read the story to her while she leant against him. I realised that he was part of a family group. His partner and their child had been sitting across the aisle from him.
My attitude towards him softened somewhat. In my opinion anyone who reads books to children picks up quite a few Brownie points.
An hour or so later he got up to go to the toilet. On his way back to his seat I had a clearer view of the writing on the back of his T-shirt. Above a picture of a motorbike traveling at speed it read:
MEET THE CHALLENGE
100% survival Children’s Cancer
Snowy Ride 2015
By now I was choking on my attitude and on the ease with which I had cast judgment solely on the basis of this man’s appearance.
Not long afterwards it was announced over the intercom that there was a medical emergency on the plane and a request was made that any doctor or nurse on board should make themselves known to the cabin crew as a matter of urgency. The fellow in the T-shirt immediately got up and waved to the stewardess. He opened the hand luggage locker above his seat, delved into his bag and extracted a stethoscope, before following the stewardess down the aisle.
Fifteen minutes later he returned to his seat. “How did you go?” his partner enquired from across the aisle.
“No problems. It’s all been sorted,” he replied nonchalantly as he was putting his stethoscope away in his bag.
I overheard one of the other passengers asking him whether he was a doctor. It transpired that he was a nurse and that he and his partner had just completed a two year stint training health workers in Fiji.
When Laura had described me as non-judgmental at the dinner table I had been really pleased with myself.
I hang my head in shame.