I would interrupt myself during stories to say, “I know you’re judging me right now.” We’d laugh, but I knew it was true. It took me a long time to learn that my self-consciousness is a signal that I’m doing something I think you’ll frown upon. And I think you’ll frown upon it because it’s something I’ve frowned upon. I’d been taught via social norms or I’d decided on on my own that xyz was unacceptable.
During the draft stage of my most recent personal essay, I tweeted, “Guys, I’m writing about being judgemental AND I SOUND JUDGMENTAL. Fail.”
I hate being judgemental. I hate being judged. I hate listening to other people judge. We all do it. We’ll do it for all the evers. Maybe it’s baked into our DNA? Well, I demand a restrand!
Acknowledge that I could be you
Steve was hit by a car while cycling to work this month. He walked away with a few cuts, a frayed shoe lace, a gashed Nike wrist band, and a battered bike.
He’s handling it cucumber cool. It’s been kind of amazing to watch. One of the first things he said to the SUV driver who hit him—imagining how it might feel to hit a human body with your car—was, “Look, I’m not an asshole. We’ll figure this out and I’ll be honest about it.”
Full of compassion moments after an SUV made contact with flesh and bone.
The day after the accident, he had an estimate from the bike shop. He told me the SUV driver balked at the cost and insisted Steve get a second quote. Without warning, I became the element on a burner set to high, merging cool black to angry red. I leaned forward in my chair and stabbed the air with my finger.
“The man hit your body. With his car, Steve.” Every word slow and measured, straddling hysteria. “He could have killed you dead. He should be thankful for the low price of one thousand dollars. A THOUSAND DOLLARS IS A STEAL.”
Steve pursed his lips and darted his scoldy eyes from me over to Emma and back to me. My burner switched off, returning firey red to calm black. I raised my arms in surrender.
“You’re right. You’re right! I’m sorry. Emma, my reaction isn’t helpful. I’m angry.”
I dropped it, but I let the SUV driver’s reaction to the quote fester and spent too much time imagining what could have happned, what we could have lost, and what we have lost. Steve’s bike was custom made. His billable hours—what’s keeping us fed right now—have been eaten away by phone calls, paperwork, and trips to the bike shop, sorting out the legalities of the accident. Emma seems reluctant to the idea of a bike ride any time soon.
Days later, I found myself wanting to sue.
“Shannon, do you know how many times I’ve made mistakes that could have ended up the same or worse? I’m lucky I’ve never hit anyone. It was truly an accident. If it gets bad and the driver turns out to be an asshole, we’ll revisit this conversation. For now, I wan’t to assume the best.”
A friend linked to a blog post by Erin Chrusch about leaning away from judgement and into compassion. The author was talking about parents losing their children to hyperthermia after forgetting them in a car on a hot day. Can you even imagine? It’s a horrific subject, but the post was so thoughtful and lovely.
“…none of us are immune from the unintentional consequences of our actions. Who among us parents hasn’t made a mistake that could have—but thankfully didn’t—have drastic consequences?”
It reminded me of what Steve said about not being better, just lucky. We’re all capable of anything given the right circumstances.
I don’t mean that we have to love everything people do. But I do think it helps to acknowledge that we don’t know the details of anyone’s story—even when we think we do.
Maybe that person who pulled up in a Hummer (EYE ROLL) watched their beloved die in a terrible accident, and that motherfucker of a vehicle makes them feel safe? Or maybe they were told they’d always be a nobody and driving a tank makes them feel like a somebody? Or maybe they really hate our planet and whaddyagunnado, man?
How many times have we found ourselves doing something we said we would NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER do? We know how a “good” person should act in a given situation. And we’re good people, right?
And then—suprise—the perfect storm hits and we suddenly find ourselves assholing it up in ways we believed we were absolutely not capable of.
“The distance between Me and Them shrinks a little bit.”
Parents get this. They get it goooood. I lost count of the things I said I’d NEVER EVER NEVER NEVER do before I met Emma. She came along in all her spawny glory, and BAM—I’m yelling like the monster I thought yellers were and cereal for supper five days in a row is probably saving her life.
“Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.
In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. ‘We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.'” –Gene Weingarten
“Except they’re not. Unless we all are.” As Erin pointed out.
Curb your judgementalism
I’ll probably be judgemental for all of time. It’s a reflex. Like anger and jealousy. But I don’t have to let it make me mean. Being aware of it puts me in charge. When I catch myself poo-pooing someone’s words, actions, circumstances, possessions, style, or existence, I’ve started the practice of asking myself three questions.
- Is it my business? Things like abuse and violence are my business. But it’s not my business that Kim and Kane named their baby North. How long or where your kid sleeps is not my business. Earth is my business, so it sucks that you drive a Hummer, don’t recycle, flick your cigarett butts on the street, and buy plastic water bottles, but that doesn’t make it my business.
- What would it take to arrive in that place? Smoking is stupid; there’s no way around that one. But smokers aren’t. And I don’t know their story or what it takes to stop. So I should just go ahead and fuck right off. And hey, raise your hand if you never do anything stupid?
- Is there something I could do to love instead of judge? Like not make someone feel badly about something they already beat themselves up for? Or how about be someone who sees a person’s worth? Can I offer the mom with the screaming kids a hand?
These questions don’t stop my judgy twitch from showing up, but they keep it from becoming three-headed.
Zen Habits suggests the DUAL method to avoid being judgemental:
- Don’t: This step reminds me of this video—Stop It!
- Understand: Either ask or imagine someone’s story. We’re already making assumptions about other people, so why not make ones that replace our disdain with compassion?
- Accept: Accept their humanity, their right to choose, and that we can’t change other people.
- Love: My fave! Love, love, love.
I’m thankful for the people in my life choosing to love me when it would be so easy to judge me. I’d like to show up this way for the world. I’m working on it.
Join the Truthfully gang on Facebook. We’ll fight this judgemental beast together.