Dangerous Tea Party — Positive, Intuitive, Creative Musings from Brilliant Minds

Though there's a bit of a pejorative nature to the term, I am, at heart, an information junkie. One of my biggest assets, however, is my ability to extrapolate and integrate information from the myriad sources that serve as my teachers, and in turn, teach others. As it is in the collective, rather than in isolation, that we grow, I invite others to communicate their ideas and experiences here, as well, so we can each grow and improve our thoughts – and beings.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Getting Out of Judgment

I was having a conversation with my sister recently about the idea of trying to stay out of judgment, regarding others’ decisions and behaviors. We mused together that every human alive has “stuff” – life experiences, points of view, emotions, education levels, past and present relationships – that cause us to relate to the world the way we do. Because we are relational creatures, human nature is to react when someone behaves in any particular way toward us. Of course, the more like us they are, or the more positive, pleasant, or funny, the more we tend to have a positive, pleasant, or humorous response to them.

But what happens when we encounter someone who behaves in a way that is counter to our nature? What if we’re one way, and we meet someone whose demeanor is generally belligerent, funny, extroverted, serious, thoughtful, melancholy, giddy, scattered, withdrawn, or in some other way different from our natural state? Is one of us right and the other wrong? Of course not. And that was the gist of our conversation . . . how we often forget that different does not equal wrong. Their way is not the right way, but neither is ours. We all just are.
That having been said, what if Mr. Belligerent regularly cuts people off in traffic, offers the one-finger salute when you slide into a parking space before him, takes the last of the coffee in the breakroom without ever refilling the pot, screams at his wife in public for forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning, and kicks the dog as he comes in the door from work? Are those acceptable behaviors?
I would venture that taken singularly, one episode at a time, while they may not be acceptable, they are probably forgivable. As a pattern, though, and particularly if you had to live with this guy, who wouldn’t be inclined to want to sign him up for an anger management class? So where’s the compromise? Recognizing that we are all individuals and there really is no right way to be, yet understanding that someone who is set off by any little thing could be the next episode of road rage waiting to explode on an unsuspecting innocent bystander?

I believe the compromise lies in separating the behavior from the person. Now, I’m no shrink – so please don’t mistakenly perceive me to be treading in areas where I am uneducated and underinformed. This is just my common sense speaking. People are entitled to be however and whoever they are without my raining down judgment on them for not doing things the way I would do them. Objectively, though, I can still stand aside and know, intuitively, that a happier demeanor would probably bring someone more peace and greater overall health. I can allow an individual his or her space to be whoever and however they truly are – but if they’re committed to anger, a victim mentality, complaining, or illness, it’s unlikely that I will choose to spend much time with them.

We obviously see everything through our own lens, and judgment is a funny thing because it is a direct product of our own perception of the world. The other night, I was invited to fill in as the fifth girl on a slow-pitch co-ed softball team, so the team could avoid a forfeit. Let me tell you that the last time I played organized softball was back in college . . . many moons ago . . . so I was not surprised to be installed at the position of catcher. The interesting lesson from that night (besides the fact that I need to listen to my trainer and do more sprints to avoid hurting myself running the bases) was about perspective.

In my position as catcher, I was a foot or two from the umpire for most of the game, and able to see most pitches and plays from roughly the same angle as he saw them. Time after time, both teams complained about the calls, insisting he was calling balls that were strikes and vice-versa. They booed and bitched at his decisions regarding fair and foul balls. Guess what. From my point of view, shared with the ump, there was only one instance when he made a call I disagreed with. But we were standing in the same place, looking at things from the same visual perspective. All the others were hurling their reactions at him from other perspectives around the field.

Hmmm. How often, I wondered, is the same true about the rest of our lives? When we see a heavy person walking in the mall, what is our first instinct? Well, what if they are 212 pounds now, but feeling great about themselves because six months ago, they tipped the scales at 255? Who am I to make a critical judgment about their weight? And even if they’re on the way up, not down – it’ may not be healthy, but it is their life . . . their choice . . . and I have little right to make snap judgments.

I recently attended a meeting where the woman sitting across from me described living in an abusive marriage to an alcoholic. In spite of having two children at home who are daily witnesses to this man’s ugly behavior, the mom has determined that staying with him is the best course, for now . . . because he is a high-powered attorney who has so much pull with the judges and police departments that she is fairly certain she would never receive custody if she were to divorce him. Another lady at the same meeting, upon hearing these details, immediately commenced inveighing the mom with all the logic and the reasons why she must leave her husband at once. Thing is, while she may have thought she was being helpful, what she was really doing was pouring out her judgment on a mother who is truly in an unenviable situation and simply doing the best she can, given her circumstances.

It’s so easy to want to correct things for people. To judge their decisions, tell them what they’re doing wrong, and offer our omniscient perspective about how they should fix the situation. God, how arrogant.

A dozen or more years ago, I was introduced to relationship expert, Ellen Kreidman. She was the one to open my eyes to the arrogance of thrusting our opinions on others, unasked. Many people want to talk, to vent, to work through their problems . . . but unless they say words to the effect of, "What would you do?" or “What do you think I should do?” they are not asking for our opinions or seeking our advice. And until they do, the best thing we can do is keep our mouths shut.

I believe that judgment is a part of human nature. And it’s not all bad. Taking stock of the world around us helps us measure our own progress, success, desires, and growth. It helps us know which people, things, and goals we’d like to move toward, and also which behaviors and attitudes we might like to leave behind. It’s what we do with the judgment that matters. Do we simply make observations for our own benefit, or do we observe and then use what we observe to begin labeling, gossiping, and denigrating others? Used for the former, it is a constructive tool; used for the latter, judgment becomes a corrosive influence that stifles our creativity, growth, relationships, and the very development of our souls.

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