Wednesday, March 22, 2017


...and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.  - Mother Teresa

My husband and I watched a wonderful documentary last night called "Wizard Mode." It's about an autistic man who is a world champion pinball player.  It is a fascinating look into his life as he travels around the world, playing in competitions, while trying to gain some independence by getting his first job, learning to drive a car, and flying for the first time without his parents.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about his journey is how he has used pinball to become more social, and as a way to open up communication with others, since the autism can make interpersonal interactions difficult and frustrating for him.  We got a very personal look at all of his ups and downs, and while I was audibly cheering for him during the tournaments, I also found myself sobbing at the one thing he struggles with in all aspects of his life:


There's really nothing worse is there?

There have been several scientific studies published recently that prove that loneliness is worse for a person's health than smoking or obesity.  Especially in older people.  It makes sense when you think about it. And for anyone who has ever felt the heavy, dark, sour weight of loneliness in their chest, they will most heartily agree.

Smoking damages our lungs (and other internal and external organs). Obesity damages our hearts (and blood vessels and joints). But loneliness damages our souls, and unfortunately there's no medicine  or operation that can repair that.

While no one likes to feel lonely, most of us can endure it for short amounts of time without any detrimental or lasting effects.  But the research is showing that long-term loneliness can actually lead to earlier death based on a number of factors.  Here is the link to one of the articles, and I highly recommend giving it a read:

Here's one of the most interesting findings:
Social isolation may be a more significant health factor than smoking or obesity, whether the person feels lonely or not. 

Wow! The effects of long-term loneliness could be significantly detrimental to a person even if they don't feel or exhibit any of the symptoms.

I'm not going to get into whys and hows and the facts of the studies here, but all of what I've read made me think: People have control over quitting smoking, and people have control over their exercise and nutrition, so can people have control over their loneliness?

At first thought it seems like that is a more difficult thing to overcome because the lack of loneliness absolutely depends upon other people.  An individual makes a choice whether or not to put a cigarette into his or her mouth but to thwart loneliness, one or more additional people must be involved. This inherently creates risks - of rejection, abandonment, and exclusion.  These can feel mountainous when you're putting yourself out there to meet people and hopefully make new friends.  But like any other goal you wish you accomplish, it can't happen without great amounts of hope, drive, hard work, and determination to never give up.

So what are some ways that a lonely person can combat the loneliness? Well, since there is no "instant friend" that you can simply add water to, here are some ideas to help you feel less lonely overall:

1. Get out of your house and DO SOMETHING!  Translation: Get out of your head and whatever you're thinking about from the past.  Go somewhere, ANYWHERE, where there are other people around: A grocery store. A park. A museum. Downtown. Ride the subway. Stroll the mall. Surround yourself with other people, even if they are complete strangers.  This will remind you that there is a big and potentially friendly world out there. Even if you're sitting completely alone on a park bench there will be life around you - bikers, hikers, picnickers, toddlers blowing bubbles, etc.  You will feel like a part of the human race if you are in an environment where there is human activity.  Not to mention, you could meet someone who could become a friend in one of these situations.  You will be making yourself available for someone to find you and talk to you.

You could also go to places where talking with each other is encouraged.  Join a tour group that's visiting your closest major city, even if you aren't a tourist.  Everyone is always chatting and asking questions in those groups of people.  Go to a general store in the middle of a small town - the proprietor will almost always want to tell you stories about the town and how long the store has been there, etc.  If you have the money, take a cruise by yourself - I've heard several stories of people doing this and making lifelong friends in the process.  The point is, get yourself out and doing social things and you will automatically be more sociable.

In that same vein,  I highly recommend taking a class in a subject that interests you or join one of the thousands of MeetUp groups in your area that focus on one of your hobbies or passions.  These MeetUps were specifically designed to help people meet others with similar interests so you might as well take advantage of the fact that they are out there just waiting for you to sign up.

I would caution you against solitary activities such as seeing a movie alone (you're surrounded by people but talking and interaction are discouraged), playing online/phone games, or scrolling through Facebook for hours at a time.  These time suckers will certainly help to pass the lonely hours, but you will end up just as lonely when they are over.

Another way to meet people is to go to a restaurant that has communal seating.  It may seem strange at first, but if you go out to eat alone and sit in a booth by yourself, there's no chance to meet someone besides the waiter taking your order.  But if you sit at a communal table, there are ample opportunities for conversation.  If no one is talking to you, you can ask the people next to you what they ordered and if they are enjoying it.  They might even give you a taste.  Some restaurants even have specifically designated "Community Nights" where the food is served family style and interpersonal communication is encouraged.  The same goes for open mike nights, poetry readings, book groups (many libraries provide these for free), art appreciation nights at museums, etc.  These can be easy situations because there is already something else going on (a performance or a lecture) and you already have something built-in to talk about.  Whatever you can find, get out there and do it.  Even if you don't end up making any friends, you weren't lonely for those few hours, and that will get the anti-loneliness chemicals going in your body and that will make you feel better overall. Even if it's difficult the first few times to put yourself out there, it will get easier by the third time, I promise.

I guess a more important topic would be figuring out how to prevent loneliness in the first place.  To that, I have a few suggestions:

1. Don't let your friendships lapse.  We all get busy, we all have limited time, but we also have to remember that we are also all going to lose loved ones at one time or another.  While we might not feel like keeping our dress pants on and meeting that friend for dinner after a long day of work, in the long run it will yield a better result than sitting home alone in our comfy pants watching Netflix alone. Also, don't always wait for your friends to call you. If you have a spare moment, give them a call or send them a text letting them know you're thinking about them.  A little word of encouragement can go a long way for a person going through a rough time, and chances are if you are there for them in their time of need, then they will reciprocate and be there for you.

It doesn't take much.  If you're at the store and you see a fancy bar of chocolate with a panda on the label, and your friend loves pandas, buy the candy bar and give it to her the next time you see her, telling her it made you think of her.  Or if you see a funny friendship card that reminds you of a far away friend, get it and take 30 seconds to sign it and put it in the mailbox.  Or take the time to drop off some soup to a friend who is under the weather. These things don't take too much time or extra effort but they can make all the difference in keeping a friendship alive. Much like with marriage, if you don't consciously cultivate the relationship, the more likely it is to die on the vine from neglect.

Here's another idea: Try hosting casual get-togethers instead of intimidating dinner parties.  Instead of watching Jeopardy by yourself for the hundredth time, record a bunch of shows in a row, invite some people over, put out some chips and have a Jeopardy party.  People can come in their pajamas and instead of having to worry about making scintillating dinner conversation, there's already a built in activity that will most likely end up being fun and even rowdy.  If Jeopardy's not your thing, then have a "Cleaning out the Freezer" party, where people can come and help you eat up the leftovers that are taking up space in your freezer.  Here's a personal favorite of mine: If you're going to be repainting a room, invite people over beforehand to paint whatever they want on it.  They can paint cartoons, a mural, graffiti, whatever; but there's something incredibly fun and kind of "exuberantly rule-breaking" about painting something on a wall.  You're going to paint over it anyway, so it's just for fun, and it can be a really terrific time for everyone involved.  Don't overthink your get-togethers, just take whatever you already like to do and bring some people into it.

2. Practice showing people consideration who aren't your friends. This will help you to practice your social skills in a non-judgmental, low-risk environment.  It takes very little to acknowledge the people who generally feel invisible but your recognition will most likely be felt in a big way.  For example, I always take a moment to thank the person who is collecting the shopping carts in the parking lot.  Sometimes I get a response and sometimes I don't, but it doesn't matter. I'm doing it to show them that I see them, their presence is important, and that what they are doing is appreciated. Inside a store, when the cashier or clerk asks me how I'm doing today, I always respond and ask them back.  (To be honest, most of the time I don't really care about their answer, but this is how a friendly world operates and that's the kind of world I'd like to live in.) I also think it's important to acknowledge your fellow human beings when you're on a walk or a hike.  Sometimes it's just a nod, sometimes just a smile, sometimes it's a verbal "Hello" or "Good morning."  But it's so refreshing to have these interactions so that we're reminded we're not alone in the world.

3. If you are a parent, please please please LISTEN TO YOUR CHILDREN!! This is vital to a child's self-esteem and can make all the difference when they want to open themselves up and be vulnerable to another person. Even if you've had a long day, even if you can barely keep your eyes open, even if there are dishes to wash and laundry to be folded and emails to return, take the time to listen to them and acknowledge what they have to say.  I understand that all you want your preschooler to do is go to bed and that the last thing you want to hear is them repeating for the fifteenth time that they got to pass out the play dough today...but listen and smile and tell her how proud you are of her anyway.  Not only is it your job to do this, but it is also a precious thing to remember when ten years from that moment the teenager has nothing to say to you about her day at school or her time at the mall with her friends.  Keep in the front of your mind that this time will not last forever and it is now or never to forge a bond with your child.  There is no way to build a foundation after a house is built, nor is there a way to build a healthy and trusting relationship with your child after the fact.

Here's what listening to your child - and I mean really, mindfully listening and reacting appropriately, not just absentmindedly nodding while playing Words With Friends on your phone - does. You are providing them with the single most important thing that any human being can provide to someone they love.  You are showing them that they matter. You're not just telling them, you are showing them in a very tangible way.  This does wonders for a youngster's self-esteem and has positive long lasting effects that you may not even know about.  A regularly ignored child ends up having a sisyphean struggle throughout his or her life yearning to be validated while worrying that they aren't worthy of validation in the first place. Adults who crave attention didn't get enough of it in their childhoods and often don't realize it when they are being intrusive or annoying to others. Their unfulfilled need to be noticed was ingrained while their brains and emotions were still developing at a very basic level.  The subsequent behaviors have a tendency to push people away, which can result in isolation, loneliness, and despair at not being able to fit in.  So if you want what is best for your child (translation: a happy and healthy life from childhood through adulthood) please please please listen to what they have to say.  If you do the listening while they are young and naturally want to talk to you, they will most likely relish you listening to them when they get older as well.

There's a reason why there's the saying, "It takes a village."  In other countries and cultures it is very common for have two or three generations living together under one roof.  Conversely, it seems like in America, branching out on one's own and moving away from the family is more the norm and "what people do to be considered successful." While I understand that people need their space and it can be cumbersome to always have family members underfoot, in those other cultures it's pretty difficult to be lonely.  Or feel unsupported. Or unloved. Or completely alone.  Which I believe is the point of those living situations.

Now of course there are loners - people who are naturally predisposed to enjoy alone time and who feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable in social situations.  There are also people who are naturally shy and prefer fewer personal interactions overall.  But there is a big difference between "alone time" and "lonely time."  

Here's the thing about loneliness:  It's painful. It can feel like the marrow is being sucked out of your bones leaving you empty, fragile, and despondent.  It can unearth horrible of feelings of inequality and unfulfilled desires in a person's psyche and lead them to the conviction that there is something fundamentally flawed about them. When no one is available when someone needs help or a friendly ear to listen, loneliness is an extremely unwelcome guest who fills the air with darkness and desperate longing. It has the power to push a person who may be teetering on the edge of depression over into the deep black depths of despair,  which is also a very significant reason why loneliness can lead to an earlier death.

Homo sapiens are, by design, a social species.  When we do not get the social interaction that we physically and emotionally need, our brains go into self-preservation mode, the same way that a human will try to survive in the midst of severe hunger or thirst.  Physiologically, loneliness can raise our levels of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in high blood pressure and a compromised immune system. On a practical level, lonely people are more likely to perish in a fire, forget to take their medication, or be left for days undiscovered if they are in a fatal accident of some kind at home.

Simply put, we all need human interaction and to experience sociality. The root of loneliness is feeling unworthy and unwanted, which you are NOT! Whatever you do, DO NOT give into the loneliness and believe that it is just your destiny. You were put on this Earth for a reason and you are worthy of friendships and love because you exist.  When loneliness comes calling, shut the door in its face and pick up the phone instead. Nourish your relationships. Fill your lunch hours and spare time with social interactions. Don't just fall back into the comfy pants - they'll still be there when you come back home.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Turn Off The Voices Part 3

There's a fantastic song by Kacey Musgraves called "Follow Your Arrow." Here are some of the lyrics:

If you can't lose the weight then you're just fat
But if you lose too much then you're on crack
You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't
So you might as well just do whatever you want

Can't win for losing you just disappoint 'em
Just 'cause you can't beat 'em don't mean you should join 'em
Say what you feel, love who you love
'Cause you just get so many trips 'round the sun
Yeah you only live once

So follow your arrow wherever it points
Yeah, follow your arrow wherever it points.

The message of the song is of course, to just be yourself no matter what anyone else thinks.  Same as the message of so many books, movies, songs, and every episode of Sesame Street. I agree wholeheartedly with this message and I hope that everyone who is reading this blog isn't afraid to be 100%, wholly, authentically themselves every minute of every day.  Because that can really be the key to having a happy life - living it the way you are truly meant to.

What I also want to address in this third installment of what has become my "Turn Off the Voices" series, is the simple and unpleasant fact that no matter what we do, we will be judged. By someone. By someones. By a lot of people or just by a few.  But no matter what, somebody will be judging us for every moment that we are living fully as our authentic selves.

Why is that? From an anthropological standpoint I don't really know.  I suppose the earliest people compared themselves to one another from a purely procreational standpoint - the stronger the man, the better hunter and provider he would be?  The more feminine the woman, the more she resembled and emitted survivalist motherly characteristics? I honestly don't know if current human behavior can be traced back to our earlier models.  But here's what I do know:

No matter how hard you try, there is going to be someone who doesn't want to you to succeed.
No matter how good you are at something, there is going to be someone who thinks they are better.
No matter how highly you think of yourself, there is going to be someone who doesn't agree.
No matter what your intentions are, there is going to be someone who doesn't "get" what you're trying to do.

No matter all of these things....because they don't matter.

In the grand scheme of things and on a day-to-day basis. They simply don't matter.

The naysayers don't matter. The dragger-downers, the joy-stealers, the bull-headed self-righteous snobs, and the too-sad-to-understand-how-someone-else-could-be-happy people don't matter.

They want so desperately to matter though. They need to pull the happy people down to their miserable level to help make themselves feel better about themselves and their lives.  They derive satisfaction from crushing other people's dreams and insulting their way of doing things.  There will always be these kinds of joy-suckers who will gladly ruin your life if you let them.

The trick is NOT. TO. LET. THEM.

The trick is realizing that it's not you who has a problem, it's THEM.

The trick is being strong enough in your own self-worth that it doesn't matter what anyone else says about you, you KNOW that you are good enough just the way you are right now.

How can you know this to your very core?  It's not just looking in the mirror and repeating affirmations to your reflection every day (although I'm told this helps a lot). It's realizing on an intrinsically deep level that the very fact that you are standing on this Earth means that you are worthy to be here. You are worthy to be happy and fulfilled simply because you exist.  It was a million to one chance that you would be born and it's a million to one chance that you are still here.  Always remember that you are a miracle, that your life is a gift, and it is up to you to spend it either squandering away precious moments on what some rude person said, or letting that nonsense roll off of you, leaving you free to enjoy every glorious living moment you can.

To that, you need to make the choice to surround yourself with people who will lift you up and support you and share in your happiness.  You need to make the choice to let go of those people in your life who no longer fit your vision of yourself, the same way you get rid of clothing that is old or stained or doesn't fit well any more.  If someone is going to disrespect you or put you down then you do not need them in your life. Period.

We're going to be judged no matter what we do. That's a bummer, but knowing that fact frees us up to consciously do whatever makes us happy since the unsolicited judgment is coming regardless.  As Kacey put it so eloquently, we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't so we might as well do whatever we want...and not waste our time and effort worrying about what anyone else might be thinking.

P.S. It's also a lot easier to feel less judged when we stop judging others.  It's amazing how that works.

Turn Off the Voices Part 2

Sometimes I'm amazed at how many people feel the need to weigh in on my life and the choices I've made.  And they usually do so quite vocally and directly to my face.  Do I give off a vibe that says "Please, come and judge me and make sure it's mean and unhelpful?"

I must, because so many people do it to me, whether it's a clothing choice, or a life decision, or my music, or my non-profit - people just can't seem to get the hang of saying, "Good job," or "Nice work," or "Love what you've done with the place."

While I know that none of these judgments should affect me or my choices in any way, the words and actions directed toward me do hurt, especially when they come from people who claim to care about me and my well being.

Here's an example: Years ago a close family member was visiting our new house.  We were so excited, happily showing him around, gleefully pointing out this or that, and then about halfway through the tour he looks up at wall, shakes his head and exclaims, "I've never seen so many pictures in one house! Why are there so many pictures?" (He's talking about photographs of loved ones, not painted art.) After letting the indignation at trying to steal my joy settle down, I responded this way, "Well, people fill their houses with what they like to look at, so that's what I like to look at."  He didn't say anything, but just kept on shaking his head in disgust.

Here's what I wanted to say:
"Do you live here? Is it any of your business what I care to put into it?"
"Did you pay for this house? (No.) So what do you care what I hang on the walls?"
"Just because your house has absolutely no photos in it, or anything remotely personal at all, and it's cold and impersonal and looks like a show home at all times even though you've lived there for 40 years doesn't mean that that's the only right way to do it!"
"Don't you have any manners? Don't you know that even if you are thinking something unkind the polite thing to do is to keep it to yourself?!!"

Of course I said none of these things but every time he visits now I brace myself for the rude, unsolicited comments about my inappropriate decorating choices.

So annoying and uncalled for.

Another example: About 13 years ago we had house guests staying with us for a few days.  We showed them around the city, provided several meals for them, and prior to them arriving we cleaned and prepared the house for their arrival and stay. (Quick backstory: at this time I was working on Sunday mornings and I had this thing about how I liked to be the one who got first crack at the Sunday paper. I didn't get upset if I didn't, but it was just one of those little things in life that brought me joy.  So my husband would always leave the complete untouched paper for me out on the table for when I got home and I would get the chance to open it up myself.  It was actually a very sweet and romantic gesture because there were times when he would carefully pull the comics out, read them, and then refold them and put them back exactly where they were so I could have my little bit of fun. I realize this all sounds perfectly silly and inconsequential, but it was our thing and we enjoyed it.) So I got home on Sunday around noon, greeted everyone (they were just sitting around reading and relaxing contentedly), sat down at the dining room table with my full, unmarred Sunday paper, and started happily pulling out my favorite sections: the puzzles, the comics, Parade magazine, Life and Arts, the coupons, etc. and put the rest of the paper aside. One of our guests got up from the couch, came over, watched what I was doing and asked, "Is that all you're going to read?" I looked up, realized that this might have been considered rude, so I held out the removed sections and said, "Oh I'm sorry, did you want to read these? You can have them." He looked down at me disgustedly and said, "No.  Is that ALL you're going to read?" I looked at the sections in my hand, then at the pile of the rest of the paper, then up at him and said, "Umm...yes, for now." He shook his head like he was terribly offended and asked again, "That's IT?" I looked down at my paper and suddenly waves of shame started washing over me.  Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked out of the room, continuing to shake his head like he was appalled by even the sight of me.

Seems like a ridiculous little exchange doesn't it? But the truth is, even though this happened more than 13 years ago, nearly every time I riffle through my intact Sunday paper, I feel a little pang of pain, remembering what he said and how much it hurt my feelings.  I know that I should not let this person's opinion of me affect anything I do in my daily life whatsoever, but unfortunately it has stayed with me to this day. I still hear his judgmental voice and see the shaking of his head, both stealing away my joy and replacing it with my all too familiar self-reproach.

Again, why did this person, who claims to be my friend and care about me, give a horse's behind about what sections of the Sunday paper I chose to read? Was it offensive to him in particular that I wasn't devouring Op-Eds or Real Estate? Why did he care so much about my bad (in his mind) choices that he had to speak up in front of everyone to point them out? Why was it more important to him to make sure I knew just how exasperated he was with me than to even consider for a moment how it might make me feel.

What I wanted to say:
"You're welcome for all of the meals I've made, for all of the time I've taken to show you around, and for allowing you to stay with us in the first place."
"You're welcome for all of the time and effort it took to get the guest room and bathroom clean and ready for your arrival."
"You're welcome for all of the times that I held my tongue and didn't express to you exactly what I thought of the choices you were making or the things you were doing."
"You're welcome for treating you the way I would want to be treated even though you can't possibly return the favor."

Just one more example: On my most recent CD I was working with a studio engineer who was also a wanna be musician/recording artist. He had found no success in his music career so he started a recording studio instead.  I hired him as an engineer (not as a producer) to record some vocal tracks that I could send to my producer in another state. In one session (that turned out to be my last with this guy) I was singing one of my original songs to get a reference take and all of a sudden he comes bursting out of the booth yelling, "Hold it, hold it, stop singing, this song needs some work." He proceeds to take my lyric sheet off of the music stand, picks up a pencil, and starts crossing off lyrics from the sheet. Literally. He was going through the song saying, "You don't need this, you don't need this, we get it...this is too repetitive, cut this chorus and go straight to the bridge," etc.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I reminded him that the song itself was already finished, the instrumental backing tracks had already been recorded, all that was left to do was to record the vocal.  To which he responded, "Well you're just going to have to re-record all of it this way."


Not only was this my 4th professional CD recording, not only had I worked with several other engineers and producers who would never have dreamed of doing something incredibly offensive like this, but when I spoke to other engineers in the field about this they all responded unanimously with things like, "Wow! That was incredibly unethical and out of line. That's not how things are done when you're a professional." I had another engineer who fancied himself a producer try to change a chord progression and the time signature in one of my originals.  Not his place, not his job, and not the way it works with people who actually know what they're doing.

I had become friendly with one of the studio musicians who worked frequently with the first guy and after the whole situation happened I asked him, "What was that all about?" To which he answered, "Well, you're too nice."

Too nice.  I'm so nice that people feel completely comfortable walking all over me like a plush carpet.

Apparently I'm also so nice that people have absolutely no problem with tossing good manners out the window and returning gifts I've given to them directly back to me.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Over the past 20 years or so, I have had 6 different people accept gifts from me, and then either at that moment, or at a later date, give them right back to me, telling me either that they didn't want it, it wasn't their style, or they couldn't use it. One person did it twice.

Those of you who know me know that I love giving gifts. I do it for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and very often just for no other reason than I saw something I thought someone would like so I got it, wrapped it, and gave it to them.  While I try to be an extremely thoughtful gift giver, of course I miss the mark sometimes.  Everyone does.  So how should a person react when they are given a gift they'd rather not have?

(I know the answer to this because it has happened to me many times.)
1. Thank the gift giver graciously, either in person or in a note of some kind, remembering that the giver took time, effort, and money to purchase and wrap this tangible expression of thoughtfulness expressly for you.
2. If the gift has been sent through the mail, always let the person know that it arrived - this is an item that falls under the category of "common courtesy" that many people tend to forgo.

If you don't like the gift, or can't see yourself using it you have a few options:
1. Find out where it was purchased and try to return it to the store.
2. Rewrap and regift it to someone whom the original giver does not know.
3. Donate it to a charity of your choice (be careful about trying to resell it online if the giver visits the same sites that you do).


I can't believe that things like that need to be pointed out to the grown-up, adult, college-educated people I used to know.  (And yes, I call them ones that I used to know because I do not need the overt callousness of those unhappy, rude, and unappreciative people who had the gall to do that to me in my life any longer.)

I guess because I'm generally a pretty easygoing person, people see me as a low-risk opportunity in which they can show their true selves.  But I know plenty of women who are not as agreeable, who are not as laid back, and whom no one would dare treat as unkindly as I have been treated. Does that mean I need to change who I am to avoid harsh judgment? Is it possible to be a nice, happy, non-confrontational person who doesn't get bombarded with judgment and criticism at regular intervals along the way?

Answer? No.  Better answer? No, but I don't care. My constant criticizers have no place in my life, and more importantly, no place in my head.

Turn Off the Voices Part 1

I am so incredibly sick of judgmental people.  I seem to find them everywhere I go and they are all abundantly comfortable spewing out their judgements of me and of people I care about, knowing entirely in their hearts that they are 100% right and anyone who may disagree with them, even slightly, is 100% wrong. Negative judgement of others seems to be en vogue right now, and it feels like the more judgements a person can sling on social media the better.  It shows the world around them that they care (doesn't really matter about what) and that they are not afraid to blast their righteousness emphatically, out loud, with guns blazing.  Yes, pun intended.

I'm so tired of it all.  I'm rarely on social media for that, among other reasons.  But I realized that most of the outside judgements I struggle with on a daily basis aren't coming from other people.  They are coming from inside my head (originally placed there by other people).  They are the voices telling me over and over again that I'm not good enough, that I'm not smart enough to make the right choices for myself and my family, and that I shouldn't open my heart up to hope and trust because I will inevitably get hurt if I do.  I know that many of us have to deal with these voices inside of our heads that have made intrinsic neural pathways in our brains. For us, it's a reflex, and these judgments are as a natural as breathing and walking.  It takes tremendous, dogged, and very specific effort to change these automatic synapses, and I'm on a very determined mission to try.

I've been thinking recently about what I'm calling "Conditional Judgements."  As in, someone who has very strong opinions about something but may change his/her opinion about his/her staunchly steadfast convictions depending upon the condition.  For example, I know a woman who was raised in a community where if you did not marry within their specific faith you would be judged, and most likely shunned and abandoned.  This woman ended up having a series of horrible tragedies happen in her young life, and when she finally found love with a person outside of her faith, the same people who would have shunned her said things like, "She's been through so much pain, she deserves to have some happiness."  Which makes me wonder 1. How strong were those convictions to begin with, if you can easily toss them aside?  2. Why does a person's deservedness to be happy have to be based on a condition of former unhappiness?  Does a person who has suffered a lot deserve to be truly happy more than a person who hasn't suffered as much? Isn't every person on the planet entitled to as much happiness as they can possibly glean from this one life we all get?

Another example: If a person who is tremendously unhappy in a job but is making good money, decides to quit that job and take a job with less pay but a healthier work environment, that person is often judged by people who will say, "How could you leave that job? You were making so much money? Who cares if your soul was being eaten away daily by the stress and tyrannical atmosphere of the place?"  BUT, if a person loses that job, and has to take a job with less pay, everyone is much more sympathetic and understanding.  They will say things like, "It's good that you got out of there because it was making you so miserable.  Now you can find something that will be better for you." Again, why does a person's happiness have to depend on what happens to them, rather than the choices we make for ourselves? There are plenty of poor people who are happy and just as many rich people who aren't.

I have found that judgmental people are also usually hypocrites, and those who judge others most harshly are doing so because they are ashamed of that same behavior that they find in themselves. The working mother who admonishes the stay-at-home mom for not working outside the home often does so because she feels guilty about leaving her children at day care every day.  The bully who teases the "nerdy" kid is secretly upset about his learning disability that interferes with him getting good grades.  The diet-obsessed woman who thinks fat people are stupid losers is terrified of gaining weight and becoming one of them. And the unhappy people who consistently put down the cheerful ones just can't seem to get a handle on feeling true happiness themselves.

No one likes to be judged.  And there is most definitely a difference between constructive criticism and judgement.  If someone lovingly offers advice to help someone so that their work, their school project, their performance, their health, etc. before it is completed and therefore can be changed, I'm  in favor of that, especially if it comes from a place of actually caring about the person and wanting them to succeed.  If the criticism comes after something is completed, then it's just disapproval and judgement. Which no one needs. Ever.

Example: I used to have a friend who was extremely critical of everything I did.  I redecorated my kitchen years ago and I absolutely loved it.  This friend of mine walked in, slowly turned around evaluating the change, then started in with the critiques: "Why did you do this? What's with that? Oh wow, I would have NEVER done this," on and on and on.  To this day I'm not sure why she felt the need to be so harsh about a place where she wasn't living.  Was it so offensive to her that she could no longer come over when invited?  This same friend had a reaction I will never forget when I sent her one of my original CDs.  I was very proud of the accomplishment and how it turned out after the years of work that it took to complete it.  She had since moved away (was it my kitchen that drove her away?) and so called me from across the time zones to say this: "Thanks for the CD, it sounds great...if I had a criticism it would be..." and off she went, letting me know everything that was wrong with it.  To which I wanted to respond, "Why do you HAVE to have a critcism?!?! I guess she just couldn't help herself.  No matter what I put in front of her, she was going to HAVE TO have a criticism.  Not to mention that her criticism had no point because the CD was done.  Finished. Completed. Nothing could be changed.  So if her words couldn't yield any kind of improvement to meet her approval, why bother saying them at all?

Answer: Because, quite simply.  She was a critic.  At least to me. I can't speak of how she treated others, but in my case she found an easy mark and took every opportunity to cut me down and try to dull my shine.  Sadly, I know, and have known, many many people like her.

There are some brilliant lines from the film Ratatouille that go like this:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." 

So true. People spend immense amounts of time, effort, and money creating something dear to their hearts like a film, or a book, or an art exhibit, and then all it takes is a few unkind words from a critic to have it disappear into oblivion. Money is lost, hopes and dreams get shattered, and the person feels like all of their years of hard work were essentially wasted because one random person didn't "get" it. It's really tragic, and the saddest part is, it happens all the time.

So it seems that those of us who put ourselves out there in any way for others to judge us - in our art, our writing, our cooking, our clothing style, our mannerisms, our speaking voice, the list goes on and on - have a choice.  We can choose to either not put ourselves out there and risk feeling the hurt of rejection, criticism and judgment (often by people who don't have any idea of what we were trying to say or accomplish), OR, we can keep doing what we're doing and consciously force ourselves to not care what anyone else says or thinks about it.  Because more often than not, the roots of judgment are jealousy, fear, anger, unfulfilled desire, dashed hopes, envy, sadness, resentment, skepticism, and mistrust.

These are strong emotions who truly have voices all their own.  It is up to us to turn off those voices, whether they are coming from others or within our own heads.  Because no matter what we do, the critics only have power if we let them.