Thursday, March 16, 2017

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.

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