E.F Nicholson explores the other choices we have when we are faced with someone who annoys, disappoints or angers us and how compassion is viable and intelligent alternative to scorn and judgment.
Most of us have had moments when we have made a snap judgment about a person , only later on to find out a context or further information that makes us cringe with shame regarding how harsh and judgmental we were. Yet more often or not, our daily judgments and critiques we make of others more or less go unquestioned .It’s a funny thing how quick we can judge others and how easily we can take the superior moral high ground, no matter how inane the transgression may be. Be it, in traffic, or walking the dog, our minds race with furious condemnation, as we observe others doing things that really just shouldn’t be doing. From changing lanes without indicating, to not cleaning up the poo their dog has just graciously dumped on the pavement, to not being able to subdue their bratty four year old who is having a tantrum and “there was I trying to enjoy my latte in peace, my god what has the world come to” type thoughts arrive almost instantly at the doorstep of our mind.
The list goes on and it covers strangers we don’t know, to celebrity we would like to know, colleagues we cross paths with occasionally, all the way to loved ones we share a life with. Our ability to see fault in others and take note of what they should do better, why it needs to be done and how best to go about it seems uncannily fine tuned. I am sure if there is data out there that has studied the percentage of peoples everyday conversation that are made up of the fine art of judging others, my guess is it could be quite a lot. Trashy gossip magazines tap into this very vein, as they actively seek out the faults and foibles of celebrities .How easily can the nation collectively denounce a movie star or a politician for some infidelity, people have no problem with dishing out righteous disapproval on how much of a despicable love rat and dastardly cheater he must be to do such a thing.
There seems to be some kind of lift or stroke judging others gives us. Seeing what’s wrong in others somehow makes us feel better about ourselves, as they become less, we become more .Its so subtle in fact I can even feel better about myself when I think of how little “I myself judge others compared to all those other really judgmental people out there” What striking about the quality of human nature is how sensitive we are when we are on the receiving end of this same attack and critique .There are few people I have meet that can take criticism as well as they give it, myself included. We build all sorts of defensive mechanism to ensure we get told the least possible amount negative feedback, through moods, aggression, guilt and a whole array of other reactions, we actively punish and put off anyone who dares finds fault with us. I think myself , when was the last time someone shouted some insult about some aspect of my driving, in which my reply was ”hey you got a good point, thanks for that constructive feedback” something along the lines of “f*#k you A*#;hole, go crawl in a hole a die you son of a bi*#ch” would be more accurate. Given this dynamic regarding what we see in others and how unable we are to see it in ourselves, we are left with a question of how do we change this and how do we allow ourselves to be more open about what others see in us and less critical of what we see in others ?
I know in myself anytime I move into that critical and judgmental mind set it immediately cuts me off from some very basic truths about people in general. That is, most of us our doing our best with what we have and what we know. If I am on the receiving end of someone rudeness, aggression or abruptness, more than likely they have good reasons for feeling that way. More than likely they haven’t woken up and decided today to be angry at the world. More than likely, it’s a combination of events, circumstance, choices and fate that got them to that place. Rather than judgment, in reality they deserve our compassion. How is it when we see a dog or cat that’s become feral and displays aggressive behaviour, we automatically assume some part of what’s happen to them has made them that way? We don’t blame or judge that animal. Yet with our fellow humans, because we have been told we are free and we have choice, we so easily make them wholly at fault and fully culpability for the way they are.
Behind each face we see on a bus, or each random person we cross paths with as we walk into town, there lies a history and complexity of immense depth and profundity.
Due to our social norms of needing to hide what we feel, who is to know what pain and anguish any stranger we pass maybe be going through? Who is to know what burden and weigh of self-hatred that a co-worker who appears relatively normal, maybe carrying beneath the thin veil of cordial conversation? What I do know, is excluding sociopaths, people who are angry and lash out, people who are racked with self-pity who complain, people who are selfish and seem to be unable to care for others, people who are greedy and self-indulgent all have stories that have got them to that place. Even though we can sit back and judge and say to ourselves “well if that had happen to me I wouldn’t doing that they did” firstly this may or maybe not be true and secondly even if it is, it doesn’t change the fact that this person is stilling doing their best with what they know and how they feel. In the same way that each of us, every day and every hour our doing the very same. That being the case if their behaviour is offensive, uncaring , weak or pitiable it should evoke our empathy not judgment .
As it’s my belief in an ideal world, when people are loved, nurtured, care for and made to feel safe, the natural result of this is to become a loving, thoughtful and kind person. It is not our nature to be selfish , greedy and self-centred, despite how much evolutionary biology and modern economic theory would have us think. Rather, these are aberrations that appear when our environment is not in harmony with those basic human needs of love, security and belonging. Knowing this to be true, allows us to view the faults of other and of ourselves with far less harshness and condemnation .As at its heart the majority of people walking the earth are genuinely doing their best with what life has given them .I am doing my best with what life has given me .I am tripping up, making poor choices, doing things that I eventually regret, being lazy, be dishonest and all of this on one of my better days !!! Yet despite my long laundry list of what I should be doing better, I still am doing the best I can do, even if it isn’t up to my own unattainable standards .So if I am unable to live a life of impeccable manners, unbending iron will that never gives up and never stops until the task is done, of heroic courage and unflinching valour in the face of any fear I face, of creative expression born of pure authenticity and honesty that emerges from any project I get in involved, of only wholesome love, care and kindness with each and every relationship that time crosses my path .If I am unable to be this perfect, faultless human, then it is rightful assumed that nor can others .
So keeping that truth at the forefront of my mind allows me to look at those who annoy me, those who oppose me, those who dislike me, those who betray me, those who disappoint me, those who anger me, even more than the people I love, are deserving of my compassion and kindness.
Seeing as “instant righteous indignation” is the default when any emotional or psychical toe is stepped on, the practice of this require a kind of vigilant awareness .It something I have to remind and retell myself continuously as I drive about, walk about and generally interact with other my fellow humans. That said, when I have those moments, that I am able to make that switch, as I turn from spontaneous scorn “Can you believe it took the waitress 20 minutes just to take our drinks” to empathic understanding, I do feel better for it. I feel less small, less petty and that false superiority is replace with humility that comes from knowing we are all in the same boat, we are all just doing what we can, with what we have .It also reconnects me in the alarming and incompressible fact that I am somehow not the centre of the universe. That all the world is not built and designed to somehow please me and when the world displeases me , the world therefore it not where it should be. Shock, horror, gasp for breath, oh the wrongness of it all. So switching judgment to empathy helps me disengage from my inner three year old screaming and demanding all the world to bend to its every whim. So being less judgmental and I mean less, as I still do more of it than less of it, feels a better use of my emotions and mind .It feel like an energy output that betters myself and the world, rather than this small burst of predicable judgment, that just reinforces all of what’s wrong with the world, all of what’s lacking.
So I discover there are times and moments, when making the world a better place can start with these simple acts of swapping the default, with something more conscious and something more connected to the complexity and humanity that surrounds us. Although one part of me would much more prefer the make the world a better place with Luke SkyWalker type heroic deeds that topple the forces of darkness with one act of fearless bravery (maybe in my next life perhaps) For today I am happy to settle with a daily practice of working to be more understanding of those I know and don’t know, who suffer my thought wrath by having the gall and audacity to dare not live up to my invisible charter of human conduct ( of which I unashamedly and hypocritically are except from having to live up to myself ) .Of focusing on catching my silent judgments hidden in my outraged thoughts and reconfiguring them to soundless prayers of empathy and understanding .I know this won’t rid the world of evil but it will no doubt make my world and all those I interact with a slightly better and more caring place to be and that is a start, whatever way you look at it.