I find myself automatically judging and criticising. I need not choose to, it just happens. Lady with 12 litres of coke. Judged. Screaming kid. Parent on phone. Judged. Fat guy in sagging pants. Judged. Its startling to me, how heartless my automatic reactions are, to the very sight of things. People in situations that my brain figures should be going down another way. I judge with no perspective. I judge with no knowledge of what brought them to that moment. I judge with no awareness of their life, history or suffering. I judge easily, quickly and harshly.
But not only them. I judge people I love. My brain jumps in, analyzes, critiques and judges before I’m even aware of the ghastly thing I’m engaged in. I’ve asserted intent and malice. I’ve found deliberate spite and thought about poor choices. They deserve [X] to rectify their choice. I should [x]. Ugh. When awareness starts to slide in, I feel gross. I feel mean and judgemental. Yuck. It’s not who I am nor who I want to be. But it happens without choosing it.
But not only them. I judge me to. Same lens. At least as harsh; maybe harsher. Done just as automatically. I look at what I just said or did and slam into judgement mode first and then self-punishment mode to prevent such stupidity from ever happening again. I think harsh thoughts about my value and worth as a person, making sure I get myself a little lower than last time, so that this time it sticks.
Harsh to strangers. Check. Harsh to my closest. Check. Harsh to me. Double check. All around harsh. Harsh. Judging. Automatic.
I am aware that I do it. It happens before I know and am most of the way in before I catch myself. Then I try not to judge the judgement because then I’m sitting in the same looping behavior, punishing myself a little harsher so it sticks this time. Finally when I feel low enough to create an illusion that I am alleviating some level of my own inadequacy I engage in behaviors to make myself feel better. And shame begets behaviors that exacerbate shame.
But what’s the alternative?
Like many other things the alternative is a practice. I practice perspective and I practice compassion.
First perspective. Perspective is seeing a situation from multiple views with the openness that anyone of them might be possible. I have no idea why she has 12 bottles of coke. It could be for the food bank or her son’s science experiment. Or maybe it could be for her because she’s a single mom, barely holding on and sugar and caffeine is what keeps her going into the night one bottle at a time. I DON”T KNOW and I don’t necessarily need to know! What I need is perspective – possibilities – to slide me out of the harshness of the moment of judgement and into the flexibility of options. I need to see the person and imagine that more than one thing might be possible. It softens the judgement and opens me to some awareness that their choices might be driving out of suffering.
Second is compassion. Compassion is comprised of two core pieces; compassion to me is a combination of empathy followed by action. Perspective gives me options, possibilities and space to be flexible with what might be happening. Empathy is an extension of that. Empathy is the ability to see me – I become you – experiencing what you are experiencing; simply put ‘imagining what it’s like to be in your shoes’ and imagine how it feels. I imagine your shame or see your grief. I feel your sadness or the weight of your lose. Empathy: I feel with you. I imagine being where they might be and feeling what they might be. I imagine how overwhelming it might be if I was there feeling. I might not be right, but I don’t need to be. I need to be softer and more willing to see you there, where you are – suffering – without judgement.
Next is action. Action is doing. With options in mind and some softness to what might be felt by you in the moment I think about what I might want. What would I want in that moment? A kind word? A hand? Understanding. It’s not a lot. Actions with strangers can be small. A smile. A held door. A kind word. A bag picked up. Space. Time. A Lack of becoming a tyrant when they hold up the line, take up two parking spots or impact me. Sometimes it’s more; sometimes it’s less. But I do something. It’s a package deal; Empathy + Action. And it’s a deliberate reaction to the automaticity of my judgement.
When I am dealing with my closest its easier. I have more ammo for perspective. I am more aware of their history and path. Empathy is usually easier to. If we are close we’ve shared some time and part of a journey. I’ve felt some of what you have. I can see me there, where you are, feeling what you are. I can imagine me feeling it to. Here my actions get bigger. I can do more. Slide my card to the waitress. Hold the hug. Wipe your tears. Pick up your kids. Drop by with wine. Or just listen endlessly. Sometimes it’s more; sometimes it’s less. But I do something. It’s a package deal. And it’s deliberate. First perspective. Then empathy. Finally action.
Finally, there’s me. I don’t practice perspective and compassion selflessly. I need them to; desperately. I need to be able to show up with perspective and compassion for me when I’ve failed, dropped the ball, or yelled at my kids again. I need perspective and compassion when I’ve tried to eat myself into feeling better after a tough situation. I need perspective and compassion when I’ve tried to not have what I have, or be where I’ve been. I need space and perspective because I am human and prone to suffer. When I suffer I don’t need judgment and the shame that comes with it. I need perspective. I need compassion for where I am and why. I need empathy and I need action that brings change. I need to show up in my hardest moments when I am judging myself for what I just chose and be deliberate about perspective and compassion. I need to see how anyone in this moment might be having a hard time and how I’d like this or that done to lessen the sting of the moment and my pang of my hurt. I need.
And then it comes full circle in something ever so desperately beautiful. Them. You. Me. You. The art of practicing perspective and compassion for those around me warms me to our common suffering and shared humanity. I see them there. I make space for their experience. I step in and help. They are healthier and so am I. This practice feeds into the ability to practice it on you. When you are suffering I am open to it and how you feel. I am driven to act – to change how you feel – and not just judge. We sit together in a moment and without judgment there is healing. Next is me. I get to do this in my hardest moments. To see with perceptive, and awareness my own experience and let it drive action. I am healthier and less reactive to the world around me. I grow and heal.
Finally, with some compassion for my own suffering and experience I can take it all one step further where I can – if I am careful – sit back down with you in your darkness and help you see some light. This is not a momentary process, but the willingness to journey with you in a staggeringly difficult world until the “Light Shines through.” Brene Brown says: “Compassion is knowing our darkness well enough that we can sit in the dark with others. It is not a relationship between the broken and the healed it is a relationship between equals.” Let’s walk together for a while.