The other day, I was discussing with my younger sister the struggle we have in erasing judgmental thoughts from our brains, especially as automatic responses. I was reminded of something I wrote several years ago:
“If you are sitting up on your high horse you may be able to see better what everyone else is doing wrong, but everyone else can also see better your every mistake and fault. Get off and walk on the same level as the rest of the world, and maybe you can stop judging and being judged.”
I’m not sure what was happening in my life around Christmas of 2012 when I noted the above in my journal. I can’t think of anything big that may have been calling me to promote my sympathy for others or remove myself from a judgmental point of view. However, judging others has been (and still is) a problem for me for as long as I can remember.
I have great respect for my mother and the task she undertook to parent seven children to the best of her ability, but I know that the lack of sympathy and compassion I have towards those around me traces back to the way she raised me. Frankly, the more I have learned about her childhood and personality, the more forgiving I can be of her rather harsh views of humanity. That doesn’t change the fact that negative opinions of people are an unconscious reaction, springing to mind whether I want them to or not, because this was the example that trained me as a child.
Of course, my mother never told us it was okay to judge those who did things differently than we did. If anyone had ever asked her whether it was right to “judge thy neighbor,” she would have said absolutely not. Unfortunately, I can see now that she often lowered others or pointed out their flaws in order to feel better about herself. If someone thought differently than she did or utilized something she did not like, then they were doing something wrong because she was doing it right. The best example of how this affected me when I was young: because my mother personally did not like motorcycles, for a rather long time I believed that anyone who drove one was sinning. Ridiculous, but that’s how a child’s mind works.
Ironically, as I moved through high school and into college, I began to follow exactly in my mother’s footsteps. Judging was automatic, but I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I, too, would have said it was wrong. I also would have claimed I didn’t do it at all. I was oblivious to my own flaw, while comfortably taking note of any flaw I saw around me.
I’m sure it would have been nice if I had taken my own advice from that journal entry above, but I didn’t really start making a change in my way of thinking until the next year. Rather than choosing to dismount my high horse, I got thrown off into the dirt. Hey, whatever works, right? It didn’t take me long to like it way better down there at the same level as everyone else.
In the five plus years following that entry, I’ve continued to struggle with a judgmental attitude, but now I’m aware of it. I see change and growth and progress in my thoughts about others. I have become more compassionate and sympathetic, not just of those who are experiencing situations similar to my own, but also of those going through something totally out of my realm. The first step was recognizing when a thought was inappropriate, then denying that thought and replacing it with a positive comment instead. After a long time of doing that, the negative thoughts stopped being so common.
The struggle definitely isn’t over now. I have to shake my head in disbelief at myself sometimes because a judgmental thought now is so often blatantly hypocritical too. As I move forward with life as a birth mother, I have become more and more interested in the possibility of counseling fellow birth mothers or women considering that option in the future. Yet because of the mindset drilled into me from childhood, I still catch myself now and then lacking compassion towards women with unplanned pregnancies – despite the fact that I am one myself!
So right now, let me offer an apology to every person I’ve ever judged in my life. Maybe it was silently in my head, maybe it was a total stranger, maybe they never even knew I judged them, but I own my thoughts as much as my actions, and I apologize for them.
Old habits die hard, so they say. But they will die, and I will not stop working to eliminate them, no matter how long it takes. Growth is rarely fast or magical or done in leaps. Most of the time, growth only happens through painstaking labor. Let’s stick to it. It’s worth it to see progress in our characters.