My brain is so tired. All month I have racked it trying to figure out what to write next, how to render it most authentically, and finally get it out looking close enough to how I intended. On top of that, I have also engaged in multiple exchanges on Facebook around gender identity, public restroom use, vaccine rationale, and presidential politics. It really has been shang nao jin, as we say in Chinese—literally wounding the mind. I realize these are all activities that I choose, and none of them have significant bearing on the world at large. And, I would do it all again. My mental exhaustion is the hurt-so-good kind, like the muscle soreness after a particularly strenuous workout, when I know I have pushed myself to my limit and maybe extended it a little. The writing and conversations are ways that I engage with my world and practice what I preach—open-mindedness, curiosity, and cultivating connection.
After all of this exploration, conversation, debate, research, and observation, once again I conclude that one of the most important practices for inner peace is to Withhold Judgment. Not all judgment, and not indefinitely, but much and for a while. Here are some illustrations from the past week:
I shared this post on my Facebook page on Saturday. I agree with the author’s sentiments, basically that discrimination is wrong and we should open our minds and bathrooms to all people. I also thought her writing was cogent and forceful. One of my friends pointed out her name calling, as she labeled supporters of the North Carolina HB2 legislation, and people who boycott Target as a result, as hateful. He then asserted that the left “can’t argue a point without calling people who disagree with them hateful,” or at least they choose not to. At once I see both sides generalizing in ways that preclude any possibility of meaningful mutual understanding.
After this I became more sensitive to name calling in articles I read. Even ones with relevant data and useful information can be tainted, as I found here, in which the writer calls bigots the same people that the previous author called hateful. Why must we stereotype and label like this? Is it just to get published, for attention? Can we not convey our message just as effectively without all this vitriol?
Finally I read and shared this article, in which the author does not call anyone names directly, but writes a brilliant and searing piece of satire that also inflames and incites. I suppose that is the point of satire, after all? It was the comments on this last article that really drove home to me the perilous state of assumptions and judgment that drive many of our interactions these days. If you support this law, you’re hateful. If you oppose it, you’re irresponsible. Perform one act that is, superficially, inconsistent with your professed beliefs, you are forever a hypocrite. Commit one lapse in judgment and you are instantly unworthy of respect, now or in the future. Snap judgments can degenerate our encounters to a series of sound bites of rhetoric and aggression. They seriously inhibit, if not completely destroy, our connections, and they consign us to echo chambers of isolation.
The doctor who rushes me through my 15 minute appointment for a sinus infection, after making me wait 30 minutes already, is uncaring and just wants to make more money. Actually, she just spent the last 45 minutes telling her patient of 10 years that he has metastatic cancer and answering his questions, and she is anxious to get to her son’s school play tonight, his first lead role.
The woman who yells at the receptionist and makes a scene with the nurse is just another angry, entitled patient. Actually, her son was killed by a drunk driver last year, she lost her job and her home, and her mother is dying.
Fellow blogger and talented artist Jodi posted this beautiful piece today, including these words:
Skip the religion and politics,
head straight to the compassion.
everything else is a distraction.
— talib kweli
It really spoke to me, because compassion lives at the core of human connection. If we can remember compassion for one another more often, no matter our circumstances and state of mind otherwise, we can probably also remember to Withhold Judgment and listen for the rest of the other person’s story. Listening more, yelling less, moving slower to the keyboard, showing up in person, asking more questions for understanding—these are the practices of Withholding Judgment. Please, let us make the effort; it may save us all.