When I was quite young and had absolutely no life experience, I was overflowing with opinions on things about which I knew nothing about. I was not confused in the least about what was right or wrong, and I was not shy about letting people know my thoughts about things, either. Looking back, I realize that my opinions and beliefs weren’t even really MINE at all, but just the ones I’d borrowed from the adults I’d been raised by…which is pretty amusing to me, now, when I see how incredibly different my thinking wound up being from where I believed it to be. I was so confident in my own superior knowledge that I was totally closed off from consideration of any other possibilities. This is the first indication that you aren’t as smart as you think you are- when you are so convinced of your own correctness you can’t even hear another person’s point of view.
Because I was so smart and so much less confused than everyone around me, it was quite natural and easy for me to judge people unkindly for their mistakes, their lifestyles, or their bad decisions. I didn’t try to hide what I thought about people anymore than I did my thoughts about anything else. I grew up hearing “you are better than that” quite a bit, and this was applied both to my behavior and to who I was in relation to others- I was told that I was better than the folks I ran around with, and I believed it, for the most part. Rather than find new friends, though, I chose to stick around and lord my snotty better-ness over everyone. Except the ones who were better than me, of course. Even I knew that if I were better than some, some were better than me.
Do you have any idea how damaging this thought process can be, especially over the course of many years? I was constantly sizing people up, trying to figure out which group they belonged in so that I knew how to behave. I had no idea who I was when there was no one else around to measure myself against. I hurt good people simply because I deemed them “less” than me, and looked up to total assholes because they appeared to be “more”. I was mean, unkind, rude and ugly, all because I believed a weird version of what I’d been told and had no thoughts of my own.
The universe must get a special thrill when they come across an idiot like me. I got the opportunity to experience 99% of the issues I had so vocally, adamantly judged others for. You name it, I went through it- from unwanted pregnancy to welfare to homelessness and horrible choices, I eventually had my own story to tell about it. Not surprisingly, my mind had changed greatly about things by the time all was said and done, and I was better for having learned it.
Along the way, I began to notice my hesitation to agree with someone when they were spouting off about another person’s behavior, actions, or motives, especially when it was harsh. My first thoughts were selfish- every time I had judged someone, it seemed to wind up happening to me, and I didn’t want that. Eventually, though, it just didn’t feel good to be mean, even behind the back, of someone who was already struggling with stuff. It felt better to present other possible, more generous reasons on the person’s behalf…which really didn’t please whoever was tearing them down at the time, let me tell you.
As this change was happening inside of me, I also began to notice how much less black and white there was in my thinking, and how much more gray, how many variations there were to the spaces between the lines I had once seen as clear and distinct. As unsettling as this was, it was also amazing, because now there were endless possibilities where right and wrong had been before. The more allowances there were for differences, the less I could form an opinion about someone else, which meant I was far more open to knowing them, and hearing them, and finding the good in them. When I stopped judging others constantly, I changed into someone better.
I’m not saying I am perfect- far from it! Everyday, depending on my mood, I think shitty thoughts about some clueless stranger, for the way they look, or the way they drive, or whatever. It is human nature, and a habit that isn’t easy to break. But when I catch myself, I stop, and find something nice to say. I know how dumb that sounds, but it’s true. I also have to accept that not everyone is working on the same stuff as me, and I notice lots of people who make no effort at all to curb their opinions or judgements. As crappy as this can be, I know that they will keep on until they get it, and they’ll get it when they have to. No sooner. It doesn’t have to change my behavior- I don’t need to slap back just to be even.
It was the sound of my own voice echoing back at me as I struggled that convinced me, more than anything else, to change; not the cruelest words anyone else had ever used to cut me down. I have to believe I am not alone in this. So, I hold my tongue, knowing in that silence their own words are loud and clear in the air between us, ready for whatever journey they are on.