I admit it, I am a “Judge-y McJudge-ster” (hope I spelled that right). It’s not a characteristic of myself that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. And the few times I have thought about it, I’ve not considered it a necessarily bad part of my personality because I believe I judge myself as much or more than I judge others. I’m not the crazy person publicly calling people out on their bad behavior nor am I the virtual arsonist instigating flame wars on social media, but inside I often find myself shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, [that person or group of people], really need to get themselves together.” Or I’m thinking something along those lines with more specifics and sometimes with bad words. Sometimes I might share those thoughts with other friends and often we’ll all shake our heads and wonder at how people can do what they do. With that said, though, I do play by the rules and withhold judgment when I’m supposed to — like in brainstorming sessions or when I’m listening to others’ troubles; I mean I’m not an animal. I didn’t know that this habit of judging was actually limiting my perspective and also cutting into my ability to connect with others until my curiosity led me to a whole new way of looking at it.
One of the ways I’ve been indulging my curiosity has been exploring Brene Brown’s work around shame and vulnerability as a student in her “Living Brave Semester” program. As part of the program, we were given the assignments to read Brene’s books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Ordinarily, I read relatively quickly and have been known to devour entire books in one sitting (I have also been known to devour entire sleeves of Oreo thins in one sitting, but that’s a whole other topic). With both of these books, however, I’ve had to read them more slowly than usual because with each one I’ve need to take frequent reading breaks to either think deeply on what I’ve just read or to cry because what I’d read had resonated so strongly with me. Yeah, to say her books have had a strong impact on me is an understatement.
In Rising Strong, Brene details a frustrating situation and her difficulties dealing with it both in the moment and afterward — and judgment was a part of this. In fact, Brene characterized those she was judging as “sewer rats and scofflaws.” And as I read, I was totally cheering her on and thinking, “Damn straight, who does he/she think he/she is?!?!” Or at least that’s what I was thinking all the way up until she shared an alternate perspective offered by her therapist: What if those we’re labeling “sewer rats and scofflaws” are really doing the very best that they can do? That they are not acting under a conscious effort to behave badly, but that they are simply doing the best they can do within their own abilities. Whoa. Yep, I had to stop reading so I could spend some dedicated time considering how my judgmental tendencies might be in opposition to my goal of living big.
By judging and labeling others, regardless of how quietly or internally I’ve done so, I’ve been creating my own limited circles. By judging and labeling others, I have been easily dismissing and putting some people outside of my circles. It’s not an attractive realization to make. If I choose to stop that judgement process, however, and instead approach situations from a default mindset of believing that most people are doing the very best that they can do I am invoking compassion, not judgment. By halting judgment, I’m leaving open the possibility of connection and not further insulating myself into a known and unambiguous environment. Being angry and self-righteous comes easily to me, but I find that compassion is complicated and if I’m truly being compassionate and believe others are doing the best that they can do, I can’t just shrink-wrap, label them, and stick them outside my circle of concern. How can I say I’m living “big” when I’m knowingly creating constraints and smallness with my habit of judging?
I didn’t expect a simple exploration of my curiosity to bring with it a breakthrough and whole new way of thinking, but it did. Indulging in curiosity opens us up to new ways of looking at things, can inspire new ideas and creativity, and in general keeps those neurons creating new connections in our brains by forcing us to think in ways that are different from our defaults. Curiosity expands us and isn’t that what living big is all about?