Tuesday = pm workout so a morning free to dedicate to writing
The entire world is smokey this morning, the smell lingering in my nose and reminding me of the forest fires raging less than an hour from where I sit.
How does one appreciate the sunrise, knowing its beauty comes from destruction? Can one? Should one?
This “should” has been creeping back more and more into my vocabulary lately. It brings with it the weight of apparent judgment. I say apparent because it is judgment that, in the end, doesn’t come from others but from myself. I suppose this doesn’t make it any less real, so perhaps apparent isn’t the right word. Perhaps perceived judgment? Perhaps no qualifier is needed, because judgment is heavy no matter the source. And truly, I’d be willing to bet that 99.9% of the judgment any of us think we feel from another person is actually judgment from ourselves. We are harder on ourselves, usually, than anyone else.
And yet, as the protagonists of our own stories, we can quickly justify or defend any action we make, anything we do. We have an overwhelming desire to not be wrong. I tell my judgments things all the time about why it is I’m doing what I’m doing, from the big to the inane. Or, I blame external factors – even other people – in my attempt to remove the judgment from myself. It’s amazing how many times this can happen in a day. I start my day with a run and meet someone walking “on the wrong side” of the path. I log in to Facebook and react to a post that challenges my worldview – or, let’s be honest, these days a lot of what I see there is just plain factually wrong – and feel indignation creep in. On my way to work, someone cuts me off or attempts to turn right from the left-hand lane with no actual effect on my route, and I shake my head, wondering what would possess them to think that was ok. The nature of my job means I get a lot – and I mean a lot – of emails asking questions or asking for clarification or telling me why they have a conflict with a meeting that has been on their calendar for months, and there are days I feel like my eyes are rolling out of my head in response. On the way home, more driving-induced judgments. At home, usually silent judgments over the placement of shoes or a cupboard door left open or the infamous second bedroom-slash-dump. And then, shouldn’t I be doing something more productive than watching tv?
This constant need to be right in my own story, this constant response to perceived judgment – no, judgment, period – is so easy to overlook. There is a sort of satisfaction in finding ways to be right. I believe this desire to be right underlies so many of the problems we are seeing in our world and the root of so much of the discordance driving politics and even the way we interact with our fellow humans.
But if we’re all doing the same thing, always proving to ourselves that we’re right, we lose the connection to those around us. We all become individual characters in no one else’s stories but our own, instead of being curious about the motivations of those around us and what their story might be to bring them to that place.
This curiosity I mention, it may sound a lot like empathy, which I suppose in a way is true. That is a loaded word, and something I would like to spend some time unpacking in the future. Briefly, to me empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with the other person’s motivations; instead, it means recognizing that their motivations are different than mine. It is absolutely not giving them excuses to be assholes, but understanding why they may be acting like one equips us to handle them or to change the underlying reasons why.
In theory, although as evident by the ease in which I could write the list of things I judge it is much harder in practice, this curiosity allows for a certain freedom in how I interact with those around me and, in turn, how I treat myself. It allows me the freedom to give myself a break, to give those around me a break, and not be so scared to live my life in a black-and-white, right-or-wrong world, in which everything I do has a “should” or “should not.” It allows me to respond instead of react. And I believe there is power released from that – true power not dependent on being right when others are wrong (which is by definition the outcome when I am “right”). Power in the form of understanding my own motivations and connection to the voices of those around me as we navigate this world.