My second New Year's resolution is similar to the first, but slightly different. While I intend to stop complaining about the things and situations around me that I may not like or agree with, I also want to stop another bad habit that I have and have always had. I do not want to have this habit and while I've made considerable strides toward ending it in the past, this year there is going to be a concerted effort on my part to eradicate it from my mind, soul, and body entirely.
As in criticizing, measuring against, comparing, demeaning, juxtaposing, scorning, etc. etc. other people, and, more importantly, M.Y.S.E.L.F.
I recently spent an extended period of time with a group of people who measure others by factors like the size of their houses, the amount in their bank accounts, the number and places of vacations they go on every year, and by the number on their scales. Whoever isn't on what they determine to be their level, gets cut down and condemned for not being up to snuff. What's actually funny about these people is that they are not living in what would be considered to be mansions by American standards, nor do they look like the Barbie and Ken dolls that have been established as conventionally attractive in this day and age. Their vacations do not take place in extravagant locales only accessible by the uber-rich, nor do they have safety deposit boxes bursting with rare jewels and deeds to castles. Which made me realize something that I had never really realized before:
These people judge everyone and everything that is different from their way of doing things. It's not the huge size of their bank accounts that cause them to be so critical, it's the minuscule size of their minds. If someone's house is smaller than theirs, then they are put down for having such a small house. If someone has a bigger house than they have, then they are put down because who the heck would want to live in such a big house? Too much space to heat and clean on a regular basis.
Try it for a second - it's fun! Let's say you are a judger, and a meat eater. You love steak and chicken and all things pork-related. You meet a vegan. They are happy, and healthy, and have made this choice for some reason unbeknownst to you. What are some of the thoughts that go through your head? "How on earth could someone not eat meat? What's wrong with this person? Don't they know how good bacon tastes? They are foolish for choosing a plant-based diet for themselves. People need protein, they will be malnourished for making the choice every day to omit animal products from their diet. I'm so glad I'm not like them, they are stupid and dumb and I would never want to be like them or even associate with them ever."
Feels good doesn't it? It's an anthropological need of humans beings to feel superior to their fellow humans. Hence the multiple genocides that have taken place since we got out of our caves and began interacting with each other. Hence the prejudice and racism and anti-anyone-who-does-things-differently-than-I-do-or-looks-different-from-me attitudes that continue to propagate and pervade our human existence.
You may feel like, "I don't do that! My feeling toward vegans is live and let live. If they want to eat that way, as long as they don't try to tell me to do it too it's fine with me." Ok. So instead of vegan, substitute a religion that's different from yours. Or political affiliation. Or sexual orientation. Or how they choose to spend their free time. Or how they choose to wear their hair. Or what size their jeans are. Or what kind of sneakers they wear. Or what kind of car they drive. Or how much square footage is in their house. Or what kind of pet they own. Or what their friends look like. Or what kind of phone they use. Or the size of their living room television. Or how many people they have dated. Or what kind of parenting methods they use. Or where they went to college. Or if they went to college. Or where they buy their groceries. Or how they like their meat cooked. Or who they are married to. Or what kind of movies they enjoy. Or which parts of the newspaper they read. Or their level of education. Or how they hang their toilet paper. The list is honestly endless. It seems like almost everyone can find something that they judge another person about. Whether they realize it or not.
And a lot of this isn't our fault. Social media permeates our consciousness and tell us what is attractive, what is acceptable, and what is "normal," and sets up often unrealistic ideals that many of us can never measure up to. We need to make a conscious effort these days to turn off the shows and posts and photos that constantly tell us if we're not as rich as, and as thin as, and as famous as the people we're being barraged by, then we're simply not good enough.
(Of course, what we're seeing is all fake anyway, but that's for another time...)
It's bad enough that we mercilessly judge other people in our heads, (or for some people, quite unsolicitedly out loud), who are just trying to live their lives as contentedly as possible according to their values and ideals, but I believe it's even worse when we do it to ourselves. How many times have we looked into the mirror and instead of loving and being grateful for what we see, we find what we see as wrong and reflexively put them down one by one. What we consider to be the "extra" flab around our stomach, or the abhorrent gray hairs at our temples, or the unacceptable wrinkles by our eyes. (This is why so many people are addicted to plastic surgery by the way.) What's crazy is that no one else is standing there by the mirror pointing these things out to us. We're doing it wholly to ourselves! It's so ridiculous. But we've gotten in such a habit of judging others that it makes sense the criticism would also fall to the one person we spend the most time with every day.
Quite simply, we have to fight it. We have to fight against believing the people whose opinions try to cut us down, and we have to fight against our own harsh judgments that may have been ingrained in us since birth. We have to fight it by not buying into them, and we have to fight it by STOPPING DOING IT!
I know a single woman in her mid-forties who is perfectly content every day with her successful career and vibrant social life. Day to day she wouldn't change a thing because she is perfectly happy with the choices she has made to end up with the life she has. But every time she visits her family, who ask about if she's met anyone yet and if there's still a chance she could possibly have children, she feels inadequate and sad because she's not measuring up to what they have repeatedly told her is a successful and acceptable life. Why do we allow other people to judge us negatively and to make us judge ourselves as a result?
I know another woman who did exactly what was expected of her - she had her coming out ball in her late teens, married a rich socialite right out of college. She has 2 children, (a boy and a girl no less), a big house, lots of money, a second house on the beach, gets mani-pedis every two weeks, and has a bunch of girlfriends who all live the same way and get together regularly to for drinks and to complain about their lives. At these get-togethers they are all judging and talking about the peons who don't live they way they do, but interestingly, they are all also judging EACH OTHER and texting select ones secretly things like, "Can you believe the handbag she bought?" and "Did you see what her son was wearing at the country club?" and "I can't believe she upgraded her diamond to THAT," etc. etc. Scary but true. I honestly don't know if the woman in that group that I know is happy or not in her situation but I can tell you that when I knew her in my youth she had very different dreams for her eventual life.
I'm getting off track here and I'm realizing that I'm now judging them for judging others. What a vicious circle I have created here!
Anyway, my point is, that as much as I hate to admit it, I have fallen into the trap of judging others who do things differently from me too. That is hard for me to realize about myself but the first step toward change is admitting you have a problem, right?
I used to know someone who was obsessed with her looks. She never left the house without spending 2 hours on her hair and makeup and worked out every day without fail. She particularly loved going to spin classes. I remember hearing about how she would drive to her gym (which was less than a mile away), put a reserved sign on the bike she wanted to use, drive back home, and then a half an hour later, drive back to the gym to take her class on her bike. I knew another person in the same neighborhood, equally obsessed with her looks, who also worked out every single day and lived a half a mile away from the same gym. (Which was brand new and had all of the latest and greatest equipment and amenities.) Every day this woman would drive 45 minutes each way to cross a state line to go to her old gym, where she lived before, leaving her infant child in day care to do so.
I'll be honest. I judged both of these women harshly. I thought things like, "Who would do that? Why would someone do that? That is absurd! I would NEVER do that!" etc. etc. etc.
Do you know what I have now realized? These women enjoyed doing these things. They fulfilled whatever they needed to be happy and they took the time and effort to do what they wanted when they wanted. They had the money to do these things, they had the time to do these things, and most importantly, THEY WEREN'T HURTING ANYONE ELSE BY WHAT THEY WERE DOING, NOR WERE THEY AFFECTING ANY PART OF MY LIFE WHATSOEVER!" So why the hell did I care? Why did I find it necessary to put them down and judge them for how they chose to spend their time?
The same goes for people who are prejudiced against anyone else. I know practicing Protestants who can't understand why anyone would sit through what they consider to be an interminably long and boring Catholic mass. They don't for a second think about the comfort and joy it brings to practicing Catholics who have grown up participating in them thousands of times with fellow participants in their faith and rituals. Here's what I would like to ask them: "What do you care if someone you don't know goes to a service that you know nothing about? Are they getting in your way? Are they preventing you from practicing your own faith? Are their rituals affecting your life in any way shape or form? If the answer to any or all of these questions is "no" then why are you spending so much time criticizing their actions? Because different is scary and no one likes to be scared.
I know many people who are horribly prejudiced against homosexual human beings who fall in love with each other and create families together. These intolerant people will leave the comfort of their homes to carry signs and shout mean things and expend an enormous amount of energy to make sure that their bigoted views are known by all who are within earshot, and hopefully for them, broadcast widely to a television viewing audience. Those who don't go to all of that trouble will do things more subtlety, such as refuse to share space with them or deliberately not hire those whom they deem "wrong" by their core beliefs and values. To these disgusting individuals (and yes, here I am judging the judgers, which I realize is wrong...see, this is why I have to work on this) I would ask them: "If handsome, successful, famous, good-looking Neil Patrick Harris wants to marry handsome, successful, famous, good-looking David Burtka, and they decide to raise two children in a loving, considerate (big, wealthy, impeccably decorated) home, why do you care one iota what they do? Do you know them? Is their life in California impeding on your life in Duluth in any way? If the answer is no then put down your picket sign, shut your mouth, and focus instead on how you can better your own life and not spend it spreading hate and cruelty out into the world around you.
All right, let me climb down from my soapbox and try to put what I'm trying to say as simply as possibly. This year I am going to stop judging other people and what they do, even if what they are doing is different from how I would do things and if their views and opinions do not line up with mine. I am going to remember that every human being on the Earth makes decisions based on their own values and ideas and I have no right whatsoever to judge them for it. Most importantly, I am going to remember that I would not want someone judging me for my choices and actions and therefore I am going to treat others the way I would want to be treated. And those others starts with the most important person of all, myself.
I just read this quote by Brene Brown, "At the end of every day, and at the end of every week, and at the end of my life, I want to be able to say I contributed more than I criticized."
So do I my friends. So do I.