7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Matthew 7:1-3 King James Version (KJV)
People in 12-step recovery refer to personality flaws as “character defects.” Character defects are similar to the Judeo/Christian concept of sin in that they act as barriers between us and the Divine. They also tend to separate us from other human beings. Morever, they separate us from ourselves and keep us from becoming the best that we can be.
My biggest character defect is judgment. My Judge-O-Meter runs constantly and no one, especially myself, is exempt. This criticism often comes in the guise of “shoulds.” I should have gotten up when the alarm first went off instead of hitting “snooze” three times. I should have had a salad for lunch. I should have gone to the gym. I should have edited a chapter of my book instead of playing Candy Crush. The “shoulds” say that I did something wrong. Sometimes, there are so many shoulds that they add up to me being wrong, hopelessly incapable of “getting it right,” of being perfect, as if perfection were something that I — or anyone — could possibly achieve.
Being judge and juror is exhausting. New York is filled with what I call “rude people.” They elbow or shoulder their way through the crowd, don’t say “excuse me,” hit you with their over-sized purses, cough without covering their mouths… My nature is to judge each of these behaviors as personal slights, to take them to heart, to make them all about me.
Of course, the problem isn’t New Yorkers. This character defect would raise its ugly head even if I lived with the most genteel Southerners or in a convent filled with truly saintly nuns. The problem isn’t them, it’s me, and that, my friends, is not a judgment. It’s the truth, something that I have learned to accept about myself.
I used to take the subway to work. I got worked up about the people who didn’t take their backpacks off, teenagers who didn’t give up their seats to the elderly, people who blocked the train doors so passengers couldn’t exit or enter…
Finally, in an attempt to tame the judgment, I memorized a passage from AA’s “Big Book”:
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.
When I am disturbed,
It is because I find some person, place, thing, situation —
Some fact of my life — unacceptable to me,
And I can find no serenity until I accept
That person, place, thing, or situation
As being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober;
Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms,
I cannot be happy.
I need to concentrate not so much
On what needs to be changed in the world
As on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition p. 417
I started repeating this passage in my mind whenever “rude people” ticked me off. Inevitably, I would repeat the last three lines over and over. What was it about me that was reacting to their behavior? Who was I to judge what was proper? And even if I was “right,” were my thoughts going to change their behavior? Absolutely not.
Over time, I realized that people’s behavior didn’t affect me as much as it had. I still had the initial reaction to rudeness, but it didn’t stick with me as long as it used to. In the past, if someone did something that I perceived to be rude, I carried my resentment around all day…if not longer. After practicing my “Acceptance Meditation” for a while, I was less likely to develop a resentment, much less carry it around with me.
About this time, I read a book by the Dalai Lama. He said that accepting that people were innocent of their slights helped him to forgive them. (That’s Judie’s very paraphrased version.) For example, if someone bumped into him, he would think, “They are in a hurry and did not intend to hurt me.”
I decided that this practice would be the perfect complement to my Acceptance Meditation. I would remind myself, sometimes a dozen times during one subway ride, that people weren’t aware of the consequences of their actions. They didn’t realize that by standing in the subway doors nobody could enter or exit. They didn’t realize that manspreading meant that someone couldn’t sit next to them. They didn’t realize that it may be difficult for a pregnant lady to stand.
At first, my brain inevitably said, “They’re ignorant” instead of, “They’re innocent.” (Even now, my character defect shouts, “Hell yes, they were ignorant! How could someone not know these things?”) I would remind myself, “Not ignorant…innocent.” I reminded myself that I probably bumped into people, stood in the doorway, hit people with my purse… I didn’t do these things intentionally and I certainly didn’t do them to cause harm. I apologized whenever I was aware of my transgressions, but oftentimes, I was unaware — I was innocent.
How would I want them — my “victims,” if you will — to treat me? The answer was simple: I would want them to realize that I hadn’t meant to be rude. I would want them not only to forgive me, but to realize that there was nothing to forgive.
While these practices have helped me to be less sensitive to people’s behavior, my tendency to be judgmental has not been eradicated. I’ve come to realize that it’s worse when I’m in a situation that makes me feel physically unsafe or if my spiritual condition is “off.” The former situation puts me in defensive mode. And the latter makes me forget that we’re all imperfect, and that’s OK.