When People Make Unusual Choices

06/01/2015 02:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

One of my best friends rode around for more than a year with our mutual friend's ashes in the trunk of her car, in a Styrofoam food container, sealed with masking tape, marked "Jim." She was waiting for the perfect opportunity to scatter Jim's ashes and was confident that she would know when the time was right. Several times that year, I was with her when she opened her trunk to get something out or put something in. And there was Jim, along for the ride.

We all approach life differently. And that's a good thing. If we were all alike, life would be mind-numbingly boring! So why do we judge people for being different from us? Because we judge ourselves most of all.

As long as we believe that we're not all right, we probably see others the same way. So the key is to accept ourselves first -- by saying and meaning: "I'm always all right, even when I'm still working on stuff."

On a trip to Paris, my husband and I had a late dinner on Montmartre and then decided to check whether Sacre Coeur was still open. A mass was just beginning, and I wanted to get up close. So I walked the long center aisle to the first pew. Toward the end of the service, I slipped my phone out of my pocket to take a photo. There were less than two-dozen people sitting throughout the massive basilica. But the guy sitting closest to me saw what I was doing and shook his head disapprovingly at me. I smiled at him and then took the photo anyway.

The incident nagged at me for days till I got the message. I hadn't heeded the wishes of the "judgmental young man." But if a "sweet elderly nun" had been sitting next to me, I wouldn't have pulled out my phone. In other words, I've created an internal order of people-importance.

When we judge people, we categorize them and then put them in labeled boxes so we'll know how to relate to them. So we end up relating more to our beliefs about people than to the people themselves.

When my sons were adolescents, they and their friends created a nerd-detector test. If a kid had one sock up and one sock down, and they said to him, "Hey kid, you've got one sock up and one sock down," and the kid pushed the up-sock down, it meant that he was cool, but if he pulled the down-sock up, he was a nerd.

Remembering that we're all more alike than not -- and that we only appear unrelated and dissimilar -- will help us stop judging. Thinking inclusively makes it easier to accept different perspectives.

Like the person from the photo -- who left the comb where it lay when spray painting the lines of the parking lot -- we all make unique and interesting choices. And some of our actions will always surpass someone else's understanding.

Dropping judgment includes appreciating the differences, without making people wrong and without believing they should be different for us. It means accepting everyone's quirks -- especially our own! -- and staying fascinated with the journey.