Breaking Down Judgment: 3 Tools for Approaching Life with Empathy and Compassion (Episode 334)
It's another day of upside down in my world as I sit here by my father's bedside watching him transition to a place beyond this lifetime. Walking my father home has proved to be an utterly bittersweet and beautiful and raw time for our whole family...and we're still in the midst of it, even as the days turn to over a month now.
It's been two weeks since my last post and podcast episode, and I shared then my dreams about having a podcast like my father's where people would ask questions about relationships and creating the life they don't want to escape from.
Well I have a great question in this week that once again goes back to some of the beautiful lessons in life I've learned from my father.
Be the change...
So a listener asked me this question, and wow can I relate to it, like I'm sure others of you reading this can. When things come into your own awareness, it can be so incredibly hard to experience the "ignorance" around you.
Like my husband says, however, "Just like fruit, people ripen in their own time."
Here is what she says:
"I have a lot of strong opinions on ethical parenting and family planning decisions, which have admittedly come primarily from seeing examples I want to avoid. I am really struggling with judgment and frustration towards people in my life who are making different choices, and seeing the impact on their children. I have recently been unable to shake pretty intense feelings of judgment toward others regarding this topic and would love to hear how you navigate that as a conscious and intentional parent."
I remember struggling with this so much. Honestly, it's still a huge part of why I've hesitated with being a foster care parent - it's a true skill to be able to love and navigate when you see the destruction and pain caused to a child in the midst of it, and oftentimes not being able to just swoop in and "save" them.
It has been such a challenge for me as well. Yes, I have an opinion on many things, and of course, see mine as the "right" way, like we all do. And yet...wisdom comes through experience. And I've been greatly impacted by three key things that have helped me navigate this line with love and grace.
The Parenting Expert
I remember in high school, I absolutely loved gathering inspirational quotes. Actually...who am I kidding - I've always loved quotes and have been moved by the power of words. I do remember, however, a time in my early teen years when I was so angry at the injustice of it all - yes, even at how others were parenting.
I started as a "mother's helper" when I was 7, caring for a little infant with cerebral palsy with my mom. I moved into babysitting and nannying, childcare work, and being a preschool teacher. I devoured every "The Babysitter's Club" book and so many parenting books. I was going to be an expert at parenting.
Which is what one may think....before they become a parent.
And then they realize how little they actually know...about their child. Every human is different, with different needs, strengths, and abilities. As parents, we're actively engaging with little beings learning and figuring out what tools will help them thrive in this world.
Another great saying by my husband Nathan...
You're always a genius...today.
Yes, we do the best with what we know at the time. If you have a growth mindset, that's always evolving.
So going back to quotes. As a teen observing all of these parents and all of my judgments on how they should parent their children, I would get pretty worked up. When I started to recognize this concept, it was an absolute game-changer in my life.
#1: Change the World
It's hard to reach people from that big picture down - to shout from the rooftops what everyone should do to be a kind and decent human being. Here are a few other quotes that also struck home during this time:
- Be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Preach, and if necessary, use words.
- Let your life speak.
- Your actions are speaking so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying.
- The best way to change the world is one living room at a time.
What is truly in your control? Where can you do your greatest work? I have no hesitation now, in my forties, to acknowledge the greatest work comes from within.
Just a mini example of this happening in my home - I was eager to have a houseful of readers, and found myself hounding my girls to get a book out and read. And yet morning after morning they were peering over my shoulder as I checked things on my phone. Yes, I was "reading" ...on a little pocket wizard with distractions every 30 seconds.
One little shift and I got a houseful of readers. It wasn't hounding kids, forcing everyone around me to comply, or ultimatums. It simply was me creating the environment and setting the stage. When I started getting up in the morning and grabbing a book and a cup of tea, it was amazing how the rest of the family just followed suit and we've created some magical morning rituals now.
Are you living the calm, peace, togetherness, kindness, awareness, etc. that you seek in others? Do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the judgment you're thinking of someone else is the "right" way....or just your desire and opinion?
#2: Don't Take It Personally
There is a talk I share often I'll go ahead and share again here. How often do we get our panties in a wad about something someone else has said or done? I know many of my younger years were wrapped up in frustration over the injustice of others and all the things they did - apparently just to tick me off, right? Maybe it had nothing to do with me to begin with:
Let's sit with this for a minute. I tell the girls "Everyone is your teacher." We have the opportunity to learn from everyone, even if it's simply to learn what we don't want in our own lives.
Instead of taking it personally, what can you learn from it? What can you learn about how you could have handled an interaction differently? What can you learn about where that person is in their own journey?
And that's step two here -
You don't get to define someone else's journey.
It's a hard pill to swallow, but you don't get to define what the struggle may be for someone else. There's a song by Kevin Welch and Kieren Cane called, "You Can't Save Everybody" that is so true, and something Nathan and I would sing to ourselves over and over as we learned to let go of our judgments and needs to "fix" others.
We all have our own roads to walk down - and yes, even the kids are facing their own "hero's journey" that will include struggle and pain. You don't know what may come from the experiences they walk through.
As we're facing the end of this life with my father right now, I can see all the things that have been "unwanted" in our lives that have ultimately led us to be equipped for such a time as this:
- My brother's struggle with addiction and fascination with the spiritual world has paved the way for him to know the journey to death in a way none of us have experienced - and his moments of pain, darkness, and healing in his own life have now placed him as Dad's "spiritual shaman" walking him Home right now - an incredible connection that came about from the ashes of much pain and struggle.
- We've lost three loved ones this year, each one a bit closer to us, opening the door to discussing death and grieving with our children, never comprehending it was preparing us for this past month where my father went from being fit and healthy to actively passing as I write this. Yet the open discussions in our family this whole year have equipped us with so many tools to aid us now as we grieve.
- We've had plenty of family "dysfunction" where family members don't see eye to eye and have different approaches to life - yet we've been faced with the "big picture" of death to determine what is worth nit-picking over - and 22 people came together for four days with no bickering, simply choosing to show up with love on the agenda and seeking connection instead of dissent. It's in knowing the nitty-gritty that we were able to go even deeper as a family, recognizing this time to focus on the common good and actively letting go of the need to "fix" anyone.
The struggles and pain of our lives also give us more empathy and awareness of others. While I wouldn't wish trauma, suicide, divorce, mental illness, addiction, and more on anyone else, I know my own experience with each of these has paved the way for me to have more connections with others. I get it. I can dig into my history and find the empathy to see another in a new way, and offer compassion.
I remember my harsh judgments when I was young (and a conservative Christian) about who was right and wrong in this world, and the comment I made to a new friend about homosexuals, not realizing she was raised by two moms. Seeing it through her eyes and the hurt I caused raised a new level of awareness, and I learned about a world I'd simply judged from a distance.
I remember how triggered I was every time someone would flippantly raise their finger to their head like a gun, rolling their eyes about how ridiculous or overwhelming something was, and having no idea that this one little gesture sent my family members and me straight back to the moment when we discovered my cousin had taken her own life.
These things have raised my awareness. They have caused me to ponder my words more before I speak them. To recognize my impact on others. And to remember others' journey with compassion for the messy parts we all walk through.
Meet Them Where They Are
Some of the best advice I've ever received is to "meet people where they are." Instead of coming at someone with how they should be or how you can fix it, simply sitting with them right where they are is a powerful thing.
I share this often as a great understanding of learning what empathy truly is about:
When you look at judgment as you being "up there" at the top of the hole, you can see how disconnected you are - your literal perspective is off on being able to truly see and connect with that person.
So learn to sit with someone. Learn to sit in their story and soak in what they are saying, recognizing it's not your story to steward. Someone is sharing their own perspective. Can you simply meet them at that? Before you speak into someone's life, it's important to recognize if you've earned that right. You may not be their savior. You may not be the right person to speak to them. Believe me, there are many times where I've had my "right answer" to someone's issues, yet I wasn't the person to deliver it to them - I hadn't earned that right.
You earn the right by showing up. By being present. And by being asked. If they aren't ready to hear it, you can risk much more than them simply not following through. Let your life speak. Instead of speaking the judgment to another, let them see the ease and flow in your own life. Meet them where they are, and give them the love, not the judgment, to learn and see a way out.
#3: The Compassionate Heart Philosophy
This brings us to my last lesson on letting go of judgment and meeting people where they are.
I wish I could swoop in and take every kid out of toxic environments. However, there are a few legalities around kidnapping people just because you think you can give them more love. Even with good intentions, this isn't the answer, clearly.
I wish I could take in every animal we come across and just have an endless zoo of love and rescues.
Fostering kittens has reminded me that it also includes lots of smells and expenses that require us to set some boundaries around what we can do.
So a few years ago in our travels, we decided to focus on our "Compassionate Hearts Philosophy" - and that means love without ownership.
We had fallen in love with so many little critters along the way, and knew it wasn't the right time for us to take them all in.
The philosophy simply states this:
I believe in sharing love and compassion for all, with no strings attached.
I believe love can have a ripple effect and an impact simply by us giving from a full cup with nothing in return.
I don't have to claim something is mine to care for it - I care for it because it is a part of this beautiful world and life we're in.
And I trust that love will carry on beyond my control.
You Make An Impact
Instead of a judgment, make an impact. Instead of pushing your words of advice as the answer, let your life speak. Are you living their life in parallel to them? Unless you are in an identical situation with the same people and personality, it's guaranteed they are living this from a different perspective than you, and thus, will experience things differently.
Get clear on what is in your control - how you choose to show up. How you choose to respond. What do you take responsibility for in your own life? How willing are you to work on yourself and admit when you're learning or don't know?
Are you able to simply show - in your words and actions - compassion? Love? Inspiration, due to the peace and calm you can bring to a situation vs. the "shoulds" of how they can "fix" it?
Your Weekly Challenge:
So as I sit in this season of walking Dad home, it's a good reminder of our impact, and how we truly make a difference in this world.
We can't save everybody; everybody doesn't want to be saved. We may not be that person's hero - it may be someone else's opportunity later on down the road, or a life lesson that will allow them more awareness and empathy in the long run.
Before you judge and feel the need to step in and fix, check yourself.
- How am I showing up? Am I practicing what I preach and walking the walk?
- Have I earned the right to have the answer? Is this person seeking me out and asking?
- Have I met them where they are first, and simply shown love and peace, or am I owning the agenda and the end result?
Consider these three things when judgment rears its face in your life, and determine how helpful it is. There are many ways we can be a light to others without "shoulding" all over them. So be the light by what shines from within, and remember our impact ripples more from our actions and the life we live than from the good intentions of our words to make it "right."
Questions or comments?
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