As much as I sometimes think that I’ve been raised into a beautifully open-minded and non-judgmental human being, the truth is not as inspiring. The truth is that I pick and choose whose appearances, circumstances and actions to judge. If you ask one of my closest friends whether or not I’m judgmental, I would guess (and hope!) the response would be something like, “Marissa? Hell no, that woman will help me justify any and all choices and then ask me if I’d like her help burying the body.” The point is, if I’ve known you at all and decided that your intentions are good and that you are merely a victim of unfortunate circumstances, I will stand by you and help you see that you are simply doing the best you can in this life. Admittedly I used to gossip about people, including friends, family members, coworkers and acquaintances…a lot. I’m not saying I never talk about people behind their backs anymore, but I do it a lot less now. When I know I’m sharing information that isn’t mine to share or when I find myself criticizing someone who isn’t there to defend themselves, I feel shameful. It’s like I can literally feel the bad karma I just earned about to strike me at any moment. But again, this yucky feeling I get only applies when I feel that I’m betraying someone I know. I still find myself secretly or not-so-secretly judging and criticizing strangers all the time. This is a very dangerous habit of mine and I’d very much like to rid myself of it. Here’s one example why:
Last week I was killing some time at Target before an appointment I had. While I was checking out, there were two male coworkers talking within earshot of me and the cashier. They were clearly discussing the presidential election and the older of the two made some critical remark about the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obama Care) and how he couldn’t wait until it would be abolished by Donald Trump. Standing there, silently judging, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Colorado Springs has a reputation for its conservative populace, so criticisms and accusations toward our current Democratic President are rampant. The younger, millennial-looking guy with the tattoos he was talking to appeared to disagree. Again, no surprise. We’ve got our fair share of liberals here in Colorado as well, but, I thought, he’s probably from the West side (where we live – hippies, tattoos, piercings, art co-ops and street musicians galore). I looked toward the middle-aged, somewhat frumpy-looking checkout woman and she was shaking her head. Before the assumption that she too was an uneducated, irrational conservative could even fully formulate in my head, she looked at me and said, “I wish more people realized that these governmental policies are not made overnight. There are a lot of people who contribute to the decision-making that goes on in Washington. We have Congress and the Senate for a reason. It’s not just the President who makes the call.” I literally almost laughed out loud at what I saw was such a clear example of me being nothing more than an uneducated, irrational asshole. I told her that I couldn’t agree more, thanked her and left.
I walked to my car with a new perspective about a lot of things. I frequently allow myself to have very strong opinions about things I literally know nothing about. Because I don’t personally associate myself with organized religion, I tend to criticize people who do. I say, they are blind, they don’t see the impossibility of their beliefs, they don’t acknowledge things like science, they don’t have enough self-esteem to get through life on their own and without the guidance of an intangible, antiquated belief system. Because I have no personal experience with the military and because I’m fundamentally opposed to war and violence as a means to resolving conflict, I judge people who see its value. I allow myself to believe that people who join our military are either pre-disposed to violence, are looking for an affordable education or simply have no direction and are perhaps following in the footsteps of a family member. Because I’ve never so much as talked with a homeless person or even volunteered at a homeless shelter, I choose to judge and fear this part of our community. I assume that they are all alcoholics, junkies or just plain lazy. Because I myself obsess so much about the way I look and how much I weigh, I frequently criticize people, especially other women, who are overweight. Again, I assume they are lazy and don’t care about themselves or their health.
I’ll be honest, it’s really hard for me to read all of that back to myself and even consider posting it for everyone I know to read (and of course, judge me for). It makes me look and feel like a horrible person, but I know I’m not alone and that is why it’s worth the risk to share my short-comings with the world. I am going to practice what my one West-side, hippie tattoo preaches and “be the change.” I can reframe my thoughts about religion – I can celebrate the freedoms we have in this country to believe whatever we want to believe. I can thank organized religion for all of its charitable contributions to our society and for all of the faith and love it’s brought into the lives of so many people, including many of my loved ones. I can stop being a jackass about people who risk their lives to serve our country and actually talk to some of them, find out what their thoughts are about the world we live in today and what inspires them to be a part of our military communities. I can stop fearing people who have nothing compared to what I have and I can instead choose to respect them for putting themselves out there and continuing to ask for help, day after day, while getting very little in return. Even if a homeless “scammer” on the streets of Chicago makes a hundred bucks a day, their quality of life still pales in comparison to what I’ve been blessed with, so who am I to judge? I can also choose to stop criticizing people who don’t look a certain way because, guess what? I don’t know their circumstances, their beliefs, or their experiences any more than they know mine. Sometimes I’m fat and sometimes I’m not, but maybe if I was a little more forgiving of myself where appearances are concerned, maybe I can be a lot more forgiving of others.
So there it is, all of that ugliness spilled out in front of you to either judge for its outside appearance or to instead see through to the beauty that lies within – the possibility for personal growth and change. Join me in giving each other a break, won’t you?