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Here’s a picture of the singer, Pink, cooking in her home, carrying her baby in a sling in front of her. When I saw it, I was concerned that the infant was too close to the frying pan and might get splattered with grease. I also noticed that the child in the back, climbing on the counter, looks distracted and may fall.

Now, is having this opinion actually another way of saying that I’m “Mommy-shaming” the singer? I don’t mean it to be. I suppose it’s all about intention and tact. She’s obviously doing her best to take care of her kids, as we all do. It’s hard to know how much you should say to or about another parent.

Once when my son was three years old, we stopped at a local donut shop. I kept him right in front of me, pressed against the counter so that no one would snatch him. A lady nearby was just paying for her coffee and said quietly into my ear, “They put the coffee right there on the counter near your child…just saying the coffee is really hot.” And she left.

Of course, I was offended and shrugged her off with the body language equivalent of “Well! I never!” But you know what? She was right. There was a definite danger that my son could be scalded by the cups of coffee that were being placed inches away from where I was vigilantly keeping him safe from child abductors. Sometimes we’re so hard-wired to watch for large, looming boogeymen that we don’t see the small vipers in the garden in front of us.

If conversation is constructive and considerate, there’s nothing wrong with respectfully disagreeing. Pink is doing fine. Her kids will be fine. Trolls will live under bridges, as well as in the shadows of cyberspace. Life will go on, not to worry. I look at it this way. It’s better to be kind than right. It’s better to be blessed than to be a budinsky. For our younger readers, a “budinsky” is just an old-school way of saying “troll.”

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I know a woman named Holly Champagne. It would be hard not to be ebullient with a name like that. Of course, my mother thought “Lori” was an ebullient name, and I am anything but. On the other hand, I once watched one of those “true-life” court shows that featured a boy named Nefarious — nefarious! — who was doing his level best to live up — or is that down? — to his name. Maybe labels are slipperier than we think.

Back in high school, one of my classmates gave quick, one-word descriptors of a group of us girls to a group of boys. My descriptor was “smart,” and even in that moment, I saw my chances with any of those boys fade into nothingness. Words do hurt, do bind and do restrain. But no word can possibly encapsulate the totality of who we are.

Labeling yourself, whether in a positive, negative or even neutral way, sets up certain expectations, certain limits. I am not just a woman, a Catholic, a brunette (a fact that grows more apparent even as my hair grows), a feminist, a liberal. Because what you expect and conjure up on the basis of those words may be as far from true as slapping the word “petite” on me. (Or, as I said to my husband after a recent outing to the movies, “I’m six feet tall and I just saw ‘Wonder Woman.’ I’d get out of my way.”)

God, the author of words (for which I am eternally grateful) does not care much for labels, I think. Labels can be traps. But we humans sure seem to love them, if only for quickly and summarily lumping together and dismissing others as unlike ourselves. We have a deep need to belong to a tribe. And part of finding your tribe seems to include excluding those who do not fit the parameters.

You see a lot of this is the comments section of any social media posting. “Those people” are idiots, losers, corrupt or foolish. “My people” are not. What if, for just one day, we stopped believing in “mine” and “yours,” “them” and “us”? What if we ignored all the labels — rich, poor, dumb, smart, fat, thin — and just got to know one another without expectation or judgment, without filing each person we meet into neat little folders — “like me” or “not like me”?

I suspect something radical would happen. I also suspect that it cannot be done. We like our labels too much. So, instead, let me suggest a new label — “human.” Think about that word. Let the connotations that swirl around it emerge. Hopefully, these thoughts contain such sentiments as “fragile,” “prone to error” and even “lovable.”

Now try applying that label to everyone you meet. It is, after all, how God sees us.

So I ordered a pizza, and the delivery guy came to the door. I noticed that he had that piercing thing where the earlobes are missing, and decorative circles were in their place. What’s he rebelling against? Earlobes? What’s up with that? I said to myself.

Then I remembered something my mother had said when I was a teenager after I came home from the mall with a second piercing in my ears. Who needs two pairs of earrings in each ear? Who does that? She noticed a small vial on my bed. Are you doing drugs? I opened the vial and told her to sniff it, but she backed away. It’s a perfume sample, Mom. They give them away at the mall.

Guess it’s a tradition. The young try new things. The old get set in their ways.

Maybe teenagers are just doing their job when they use themselves as a canvas. So they get a mohawk. It’s only hair. It’ll grow back – although, to be honest, I don’t know if earlobes ever return.

Thinking back to the pizza guy with earlobe holes, I have to admit that his earrings (is that what you call them?) were interesting looking, like colorful little art pieces. Also, he was polite and respectful. Most important, he got the pizza to us on time, and it was still hot. Always a plus.

Long story short (it’s too late for that, you say? Cheeky devil!) I got over myself and remembered that we’re not all supposed to look the same. And that your early years are the time to experiment with your look, your clothes, heck, even your worldview. If you don’t evolve over time, best take a quick look in the mirror. You may actually be an amoeba!

So go ahead, pizza dude (and the rest of the world, too, for that matter.) Be yourself. I’ll put aside my crotchety kvetching and get back into “live and let live” mode. I’ve decided that the world is big enough for you, me, and at least one large pizza pie. But please. Hold the anchovies!

Jesus PrayerOur house is rapidly turning into the hang out for my son’s friends. I work from home which you might think would cramp their style, teen boys that they are. But even the boys who could stay home with no parents and no supervision, end up over here.

The funny thing is that I’ve never had a boy related problem although I have had problems with a parent or two. Once in a blue moon, I’ve had a mom point out that she wouldn’t let this kid or that kid hang out at her house. “He’s a little rough.” “His mother has a past.”

The thing is, I look beyond the sins of their fathers and their mothers. I look at more than their big, gruff demeanors.

Instead, I get to know the boys. The kitchen opens into the family room so I can ask them questions while I’m fixing them something to eat. And God always helps me see them as who they are – His Children.

Given how judgmental adults can be, I shouldn’t be surprised when every now and then one of the boys deiced to test me and see if I’m one of those adults. “Yeah, I’ve only been in the area for a couple of years. When I was in grade school, Mom got into drugs and moved us to Hannibal. Now I’m back with my dad. I hate Hannibal.”

I’d love to say that I came up with something brilliant. That’s what I’d like to say, but I’m not that smooth. “I’ve been to Hannibal.” Genius. Pure genius.

Yet, somehow I passed the test. Although he had to leave briefly after dinner, he came back for three more hours.  He told my son he wants to hang out this summer.  When he left, he shook my hand and my husband’s hand and thanked us for our hospitality.

Many of these boys aren’t perfect, but then neither am I. I just hope that they can hold off judging me. After all, we are all God’s children, flawed but loved. All that God asks is that we love each other in return.

–SueBE

Walking through the mall, I saw a woman in the juniors’ department dressed to be noticed – stylish belt slung low on the hip.  Cleavage busting out all over.  Hair teased beyond the point of no return.  Bright blue eye shadow.  Spidery black eyelashes.  Stiletto boots with pointy toes.

Normally I wouldn’t even notice this type of thing, but in this case, I did a double take.  You see, the woman was probably about 70 years old.

At first I thought I was exempted from “judgeyness” because I was just worried that some gaggle of teenagers might make fun of her.

But what if they did?  First off, I judged the teenagers.  As if judgment was only the domain of teenagers.  But I just judged them.

”Help her be true to herself,” I prayed, thinking I was expressing some kind of Christian concern.

But what if she was being true to herself?

Here I was worried that she’d be mocked and it would hurt her, yet my pity was more corrosive.  At least if someone has an opinion of her, she’s not invisible, as I expected her to be at 70.  I passed by dozens of other older people in the mall.  And I do not remember a one of them.  But I remember her.

What did I expect of her at 70?  That she dress “age-appropriately?”

Orthopedic  shoes, support hose and a shawl?  How about a walker too for full effect?

All that said, I went to the mall in sweats and sneakers, my hair stuffed hastily into a pony tail:  in a word, grungy.  Only God knows how many people passed me in the mall and prayed the same prayer for me!

At the end of the day, there’s no dress code for kindness.  Everybody’s doing what they think is best, so live and let live.  Lori’s beautiful post this week is about holiness, and it made me realize how easy it is to lapse into “holier-than-thou-ness.”  God doesn’t give you the up-down before He blesses your life.  He looks at the heart and character.  Not the haute couture.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The truth was set in stone, I said,
and my heart became a boulder.

Pride blocks so many true things:
connections, kinship, compassion.

When I let go of what I think I know
and entrust it all to Your care,
the world opens up to me.

You alone know the truth of each soul
and still, love us all as Your own.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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