A few months ago on a flight to warmer locales, a friend and I spent an hour discussing our greatest personal failings.
Over tiny bags of peanuts and plastic cups of Diet Coke we dissected our most disappointing qualities. Luckily (?) we share the same less-than-pleasant tendencies:
1. a tendency to judge others’ “bad decisions”
2. an equal-if-not-greater tendency to lack empathy for the fallout of “bad decisions”
“I hate this about myself but I can’t stop. And I can’t seem to reason my way out of it. I really, deeply believe that life is about choices and if you make the wrong choices, that’s not my problem,” she said.
“I know. I know! Intellectually, I realize that I’ll never know anyone’s back story or why they made those choices. But in practice I’m just SO SURE I’m right. And I’m not, of course. I’m not any more ‘right’ than anyone else. It’s so gross. Like, I need to read a book about how to be more empathetic,” I mumbled through three bags of peanuts.
Of course, we weren’t talking about things that are beyond anyone’s control – we were busy being judgmental assholes about things like credit card debt and drinking Mountain Dew with every meal and bringing 35 items into the 10-item-only express check out.
We landed, enjoyed our trip, and didn’t mention our shared asshole-ery again but it was a conversation that lodged itself deep in my heart + mind. How could I get past my judgmental habit? How could I have empathy for people who annoyed me, disappointed me, took too long in the express lane?
The answer, for me, lies in this phrase + mind shift:
We all have extenuating circumstances and ‘best’ can vary a lot from person to person and day to day. I’ve had days where my personal best was driving 40 miles an hour along the shoulder of the highway, panicking about that orange engine light.
I’ve had days where my personal best was putting on a video for my students and crying in the bathroom and days where my best was wearing yesterday’s clothes and eating Cheetos for breakfast.
And in those moments and days of weakness and misery, I would have loved if others could see that this mess was my best. If I want that for myself, can’t I extend that grace to other people?
I can’t see into that person’s morning or their week or their life. I don’t know what lead them to that express lane with 35 items, but I can make space to acknowledge that maybe this is what their best looks like today. And I can be thankful that (at least today) my best doesn’t look like crying in the bathroom, eating Cheetos.
Do you struggle with being judgmental? How do you get past it?