Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step
We all like to think that we do not judge people, but we all do. We do it all the time. We meet a new person at a business networking event, or a party or even whilst standing in the queue at the supermarket and we judge people. We make assumptions about their life and criticise their choice of clothes, or hairstyle. Often, these criticisms are not vocalised but internalised and we make decisions about people before we have even spoken one word to them.
Why do we judge people?
This is one question that I found myself asking whilst walking one day. On your first night on the Camino, if you are staying at a hostel (whether that is in St Jean Pied de Port or The Orisson), there is a tradition known as the “round robin” after the meal. The host will usually introduce themselves and then invite people to share some information about themselves and the journey that they are about to embark upon.
The first time I experienced this was quite amusing and very light-hearted. Many people shared the simple facts such as their name, where they were from and how far they intended to walk. For example, Rachel (at the age of 13) proudly stood up and announced “Hello, my name is Rachel, I am 13 from England. We are hoping to reach the Iron Men statues just outside of Pamplona. I am here because my mum made me”. Everyone clapped and gave her so much support. She literally grew a few inches at that moment and her confidence was already starting to blossom. (read Rachel's journey here).
Characters of the Trail
The second time I experienced this ritual was completely different. The first person to stand up was an Italien lady who shared something so personal that this set the scene for the rest of the group. I can't remember her name, but her best friend translated her every word as she stood up and announced that she was grieving for her mother who she lost a few weeks ago. She could not go on without her and she needed to learn to smile again. She had written the name of her mum on the souls of her feet and her intention was to walk off the pain with each step on the Camino. Wow! Where was my tissue?
As she sat down, the next lady stood up. A young girl in her 20's from Korea. Again, her English was not brilliant, therefore a fellow pilgrim translated for her. “I am walking the Camino because I need a reason to live”. Heads turned and I looked at Erik who was sitting next to me. We looked back at this young girl, who must have been in her early 20's who continued her story. She didn't know why she felt so down, but she had no direction in her life. She had tried to commit suicide and she was in a dark place. She was hoping that the Camino would be the answer to her prayers. (Just to let you know that I caught up with her a few days later and she was smiling and laughing). The pilgrim that translated for her became a very close friend and this is what got her through.
Internally, I knew I was judging these people and making a mental note of who to avoid on the trail as I didn't want to absorb any negative energy. I feel guilty typing that sentence, but it is true. I am sure I am not the only person that was doing that, but it was wrong. I had the ability to make a difference in these people's lives if I just made the effort. I didn't know it at the time, but that is exactly what I was going to do.
There were some real characters on this particular trip and everyone had a story. Walter & Fred from Germany had already been walking for a month and tomorrow was their last day. They were best friends and had known each other from Kindergarten. They had married sisters, so ended up as brothers-in-law. Even though we spent the whole of the next day walking over the Pyrenees in the pouring rain, they still found the energy to do a little dance on the Spanish/French border crossing and we sang our way down the mountain. I remember thinking that these two old guys in their late 60's would be boring to walk with, but how wrong was I?
There was the loud American man that I instantly judged and tried to avoid in the first few days. Bubba became a Camino mini-famous person who actually had a heart of gold. After walking with him on and off for a week or so, you get to know the story behind the person. You also have the amazing opportunity to see that person change before your very eyes. The Camino gives you the opportunity to get rid of the person who you have morphed into and allows you to press that reset button so that the real you is reborn.
It can be difficult to judge people on the Camino
When you are on the Camino everyone starts off at a level playing field. No-one knows what you do for a living. No-one knows what car you drive. No-one knows how big or small your house is. Everyone is wearing similar clothes and carrying the same type of gear. We are all pilgrims, going in the same direction putting one foot in front of the other. Life is simple and not complicated.
The innocence of “non-judgement” will fade over time as we are human. There was one instance when I was openly judged on the trail by another pilgrim. Let me explain why.
There is a stigma attached to those perigrino's that are not “true pilgrims”. The definition of a “true pilgrim” is someone who has walked every single step along the 890 km (500 miles) from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago by foot only. If you skip a small section by taking a taxi, or even those that cycle the route are not considered “true pilgrims”. The other element of being a real pilgrim is that you must carry your pack on your back from start to finish. Using the luggage transfer service means that you have lost the privilege of calling yourself a real pilgrim as you have not suffered. A pilgrim must suffer in order to be released from their sins. What a load of poppycock! See video below of the day we skipped a section of the Camino and had an absolute hoot!
I will always argue that if a “true pilgrim” was walking the Camino thousands of years ago and the opportunity arose for the said pilgrim to hitch a ride with a donkey, don't you think that they would have said yes? If continuing to carry your heavy rucksack will lead to long term damage of a knee or hip, is that really worth the sacrifice to enable you to call yourself a “real pilgrim?”, especially if it means that you are highly unlikely able to finish the route due to your health.
Anyway, Julie, Rachel and I had stayed in a luxury hotel that included a hot spa, swimming pool, hot stone massage etc (not very pilgrim style!). We had really enjoyed our day of rest, but it meant that would have left our Camino family behind. We made the decision that today we would take a taxi for 4 miles and catch up with our friends. As we exited the taxi a young man (who I will call Freddy) made a sarcastic comment about not being a true pilgrim. We laughed it off, but it really got to me and I felt as if I had cheated myself in some way. Being judged was not a nice feeling.
That evening I caught up with Freddy and he told me a story of how he had been punished today for judging people. I listened intently as he explained that he was walking along peacefully when he heard loud music in the distance. He assumed it was a cafe or an oasis of some kind, but as he turned the corner he spotted another pilgrim that was carrying a speaker on his pack and was playing loud classical music. The other pilgrim was rolling a cigarette and offered one to Freddy.
Freddy saw red and gave him a piece of his mind about being respectful of other pilgrims and that not everyone wants to listen to music. His opinion was that if you wanted to listen to your own music then you must wear earphones. As Freddy was telling me this story he was quite aggressive. He was angry that this other guy was littering the air with tunes that were totally unacceptable. After ranting at the other pilgrim, who had turned off the speaker by now, Freddy returned to the trail in anger. He stormed off and as he did his leg got caught on a low branch and subsequently pierced his leg quite deeply. He squealed in pain as he looked down at the gushing blood which was now all over the trail.
The other pilgrim rushed to his aid, with a bandage and helped to patch Freddie's leg, because that is what pilgrims do.
Freddy told me that he had learned a valuable lesson that day. He felt that God was punishing him for judging people too quickly. There were no other pilgrims on the trail, so no-one else had heard the music. The guy had also turned off the music as soon as he had seen Freddy and offered a cigarette to share. No harm was done. From this day on he will not make assumptions. If something upsets him then he will take it in his stride. Let's just say that Freddy needed a few more lessons before the message finally sank in, but he got there in the end. We are all different and not everyone has the same opinion. Not only should you respect other people's opinions, but do not judge them when they look at things from a different perspective.
Who you spend your time with is so important
Have you ever noticed that someone else's energy can be infectious? A negative nelly at work can have a detrimental effect on a team, perhaps a spouse or a parent who has a different outlook on life can seep into your pores over time without you even realising it. After spending a week with a character on the Camino named Erik Op Ten Berg I realised how life really should be. He just lived for the pure joy of living and it was infectious. Erik was certainly a kindred spirit and he oozed the “real Julia” out from my shell where I had been living quite comfortably for some time. He ignited the creative person inside that had been buried for quite a while and I felt compelled to take a new path in my life. Yep, Erik is to blame for The Adventure Geek, and I love him for this very precious gift.
If you find yourself analysing someone before you know anything about them, simply take a few minutes to consider the story behind the judgement. Ask yourself why were you thinking that way and question what is the story of the person you are mentally criticizing.
I also made the decision that certain people in my life needed to be cut free if I was going to continue this new path of postivity, creativity and fantastic energy. If I wanted to be true to myself then I needed to stop living in the shadow of people who were no longer serving that purpose. Cutting people out of your life is not easy. As a loud American Perigrino once told me:-
“life is like a hurricane. If you want to see the sunshine then you have to weather the storm and get through to the other side”
Bubba – you were so right!
Thank you for reading this blog.