I’ve learned something recently, something that I know will change my life if I can get my head around it, something I wish I would have realized 20 years ago, but nobody was talking about things like this when I was 30. If I could fax my younger self I’d say without hesitation – master this.
Brene Brown, in one of her recent books “Rising Strong,” relates some powerful advise from a friend:
Steve said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.
This sounded great, so I tried it. Massive fail. I don’t have it in me. I’ve built an entire world around judging others, comparing myself to others, using the “laziness” of others to make myself feel good, labeling people based on what they have or haven’t accomplished in their lives. I tried to lay it aside but it’s become part of me.
It feels good to tear someone down. It makes me feel valuable, ironically, when I take someone’s value away. But ultimately I have to put myself under the same microscope, which is especially hard these days. I”m a washed up, has-been pastor, now a stay at home dad. Not much in my life to tout. All the judgments, all the “can you believe that guy” thoughts that I’ve used to create my little accomplishment-based caste system have come back to haunt me. In spades. Over and again I come up just as short as everyone else.
I spend more emotional energy ripping myself apart than I care to mention.
Sadly, the only way out of it is to take Steve’s advice and let as many people off the hook as I can. But it’s nigh unto impossible when I’ve spent my life in an activity that’s brought so much meaning, and is such a powerful salve for my carefully hand-crafted crappy self-view.
I will say that I’ve gotten a little better at it. I’ve been trying to think of other things when I see someone driving like an idiot, or making excuses – clearly not “doing their best.” Irresponsibility, selfishness, arrogance, sloppiness, people that don’t vote the way they should, people who try to hurt me – all used to be opportunities for a “boost,” now I see them as an opportunity to let myself off the hook, to live a better life.
I know. There are lazy people in this world, people who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything, selfish people, folk who need to get their shit together, etc., etc. But there are also stories behind why they approach life the way they do. Painful stories. Consider “Dave,” who, as a child, would do violence to himself to get his checked-out mother’s attention. As a college student, everyone tried to figure out why he didn’t bother to shower, or study, or come to class. He was sent to a psychiatrist who bothered to look deeper, and show him some compassion. He found the deeper story. The kid was doing the best he could.
There are a million ways to pass judgement without feeling like you’re passing judgement. There’s only one way to believe that everyone’s doing their best. As hard as it is, I’m convinced that it’s the surest, most complete way to follow Jesus’ commandment to “judge not” anyone, including yourself.
If you’re someone who struggles like I do, it’s a quick path to freedom.