Friday, April 17, 2009

Love Vs. Judgement

"If you judge people, you have no time to love them."- Mother Teresa

We live in a world that judges people, on the spot, for pretty much everything: what we wear, our hairstyle, our complexion, the way we talk, the car we drive. Many of us so-called "enlightened" folks will say those things don't matter to us, yet we have no problem complaining about our friend's messy house, our cousin who drinks too much or our coworker who gossips all day.

For every second we focus on someone's negative issues, we give that issue power. We give it life. Our brain starts to associate the behaviour with the person, until it BECOMES the person. Our friend becomes a slob, our cousin an alcoholic, our coworker a bitch. We secretly enjoy focusing on other people's problems, because in doing so we can forget our own very real, very human shortcomings. We can say "I am better than you."

We have it backwards. Instead of focusing on the negative, try today to see the beauty in everyone else, the wonderful things that he or she is doing. You then see that your friend drops everything to help others. Your cousin is one of the funniest people you know. Your coworker is struggling to support a chronically ill partner. In short, there is a lot more to this person than the label you've slapped on them.

We have all learned a lot about tough love in our lifetimes from numerous "self-help" gurus. We have come to believe that we can withdraw our support from others until they start living the way we think they should. In contrast, I believe that people need our love in the NOW, that we need to love others unconditionally. I am not suggesting ignoring or hiding from others' problems. I am not advocating denial. I am asking that you understand we are all on a journey in this lifetime. Each of us is here to learn and grow and there are as many paths to learning as there are people on the planet. We need to respect that other people are experiencing the pain and the joy of life differently than we are. We need to truly put ourselves in another person's shoes, and try to understand that they are coping and living life the only way that seems possible to them at the time.

I'd like to share with you my personal story because has helped me to understand this concept. For a decade I lived in a relationship that slowly soured. In the beginning, my partner was a friend, funny and fun to be with. In the end, under threat of physical violence, I left. In the intervening years, my life and my spirit slowly sunk under the weight of emotional abuse. It was such a gradual process that I honestly didn't see it. Over the years, I had moments of clarity in which I tried to envision leaving, but I felt powerless to do so. I had come to believe that I was incapable of making decisions on my own.

When I recall those years, I like to use the "boiling frog" story. In the late 1800s scientists performed experiments to see how frogs sense changes in temperature. They reported that if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and very slowly raised the temperature of the water to boiling, the frog would die without ever having noticed the change in temperature. They also claimed that if you dropped a frog directly into a pot of boiling water, it would react immediately and jump out of the pot. Whether or not this story is factually true, it is the best way I know of to help people understand how I could have stayed in such a relationship for so long.

I now look back and realize that over the years I came to believe my partner's messages that I was lazy and disorganized, with poor decision-making skills and an unrealistic, impractical view of the world. Over time I actually became those things, in part because I heard often enough that I WAS them.

Friends and family could see these things happening to me, but they were powerless to stop it. I couldn't acknowledge their concerns. I would only defend my partner and then pare back my interactions with the concerned parties, convinced that I was doing the right thing. When I ended up in a woman's shelter, I realized that I had been in denial for a long time, taking emotional blows while many of the other women there had been taking physical blows as well.

The whole experience has helped me to understand how hard it can be to change the damaging, harmful things in our lives. It helped me to know that in such a situation, you often don't see a way out, that you feel unable to change it. It takes a pivotal event to spur change. Then it takes love and personal forgiveness to heal and see it as part of our soul's journey.

In the end, it's all about love. If I had truly loved myself, I would have never stayed in such a hurtful place. I judged myself harshly for a long, long time, and it only brought me more pain. We need to love ourselves and love others, respecting our individual paths. The healing will come.

Remember to be gentle with yourself. In doing so you will be more gentle with others.


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