Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When you see a good person,
think about evaluating that person.
When you see a bad person,
think about evaluating yourself
–Confucius, quoted by Steve DeMasco in The Shaolin Way

Sometimes we are our own harshest critics, especially when we are criticizing someone else!

Last fall, I had one of those one-finger-pointing-at-someone-else-three-fingers-pointed-at-myself experiences. A colleague sent an email complaining about his teaching schedule. Because he thought my schedule was part of the unfairness (to him), I was copied on it. As it turns out, my schedule was not the one putting him at a perceived disadvantage; it was someone else’s. Then in the series of emails, he questioned the “POWER” of this other person to claim the coveted time slot.

Not sure if he was joking (I don’t know him very well), I deflected the issue with some weak humor. Afterwards, I pondered the email exchange and gifted what I labeled as his petty ego trip with some condescending compassion. Condescending, I say, because I saw myself as quite above such a silly fray. Way too spiritual, too serene, too wise. Concerned more with REAL suffering in the world rather than whether I would be coming home an hour later after work.

Basking in my moral superiority as I condemned his sense of workplace superiority (you see where this is going), I suddenly “saw” a mirror in front of me. I remembered years when an hour in my schedule meant the difference between being able to pick up my kids after school or needing after school childcare. I don’t know anything about my colleague’s personal life. That hour might be very important. Indeed, I remember times when I was practically apoplectic over being kept waiting 10 minutes. When I thought I was entitled to something better than someone else. Who am I to judge him?

Disappointed that my enjoyment of being more-enlightened-than-thou was so abruptly cut short, I started wondering if there was anything I could judge someone for that I wasn’t guilty of myself. Surely there is something I could point at and say with confidence, “I never have done and never would do that!” After several hours I couldn’t think of anything that I was not guilty of, either directly or indirectly.

Earlier this year, I was struggling more deeply with what I labeled as a careless and selfish choice by one of my kids. Her choice has changed her life and the lives of those around her, including mine. I was feeling resentful and angry. How could she be so unthinking about the consequences of her actions, so cavalier about their impact on others?

Then I remembered myself at her age. I was every parent’s worst nightmare. All I can say is that I must have had a whole platoon of guardian angels on 24/7 duty shifts, because it is truly a miracle that I did not destroy my life and take a few lives down with me during my tumultuous adolescence. As I said to one of my other kids once when she was amazed that I caught her doing something she was sure she could get away with, “Honey, you are not even in my league.” I am so glad my parents lived long enough to see me turn into a halfway decent human being. When I think of my own youth, I fall to my knees in gratitude for every one of my kids.

Seeing our judgments reflected back to us certainly takes the fun out of it! Thank God.

We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. –Anais Nin


  1. Oh dear Galen....this judging thing again (O:. What is the old saw...."Judge not....lest you walk a mile in my shoes.". I kinda like that quote.



  2. A very good friend of mine once told me that we often dislike in others what we have in ourselves but don't always see. People act like a mirror and we see ourselves without knowing it. That thought has helped me understand myself and others better. Mirrors are good, we just have to be aware that they are there.
    I liked your post :)
    Have a great day!

  3. Funny how we often judge others, then judge ourselves, then realise we're better off not judging at all!

    I remember a couple of Bible quotes to share with you Galen, "Judge not lest ye be judged", and "There but for the Grace of God go I"

    Take care :-)

  4. Galen -
    How soon we forget that our children are human to!

    They have the same desires, needs and longings that we as parents still have as of today.

    It's just so easy to use our 20/20 hindsight to judge them.

    I'm reminded of this quote by Harold Nicolson -
    We all are inclined to judge ourselves by our ideal; others by their acts.

  5. Galen, such a wonderful reminder to all about judging. I try very hard not to judge anyone because I don't know what they are going through.

  6. Jo--I love that quote! I never heard that before. What a clever combination of two old adages. Thanks for sharing it.

    Beliza--That does seem to be true. The fault is so clear and annoying...when someone else has it! Thanks for commenting.

    Stuart--Good quotes, both of them. We talked about that first one in our discussion group last week. We thought it means not so much that we will be judged by a third party, but that our judgments of others are reflections of our judgments of ourselves. Thanks for your comment.

    Ellene--I know I forget sometimes about my own youth when I get so impatient and frustrated with my kids. When I remember how I was, I realize my kids are saints compared to me at that age! Thanks for commenting.

    Mitzi--We really don't. Sometimes I'm surprised to find out that someone is going through a particular challenge that I had no idea about. Or even just a bad day. Thanks for your comment.

  7. You are right on the mark again, although (I'm not going to judge just offer advice) this person might have thought of having a polite way of sharing their problem and working it out before rushing to just complain. I work with so many people who I believe (there I go judging again) but often it seems when you give them options they just want to whine. I had a day care woe like that and spoke with my boss and he actually set it up that I came in a little earlier but was allowed to leave in time to meet the bus! Yes things can often be worked out with just a little conversation and compassion! Great bit of wisdom you offered Galen...

  8. Oh, weren't WE of the same mold!?? I really look back and wonder "OMG, I could have killed someone" or "I really did that?". I'm thinking my grandfather is watching over me and saying "Whoa, saved ya again".

    I'm in the same boat with you! My son has gone and change not only his life but mine and I'm extremely resentful and bitter about it. Because I've taught and drilled into my kid's heads morals and not to do stupid things, think before you act. They knew what consequences awaited. Then to go and screw up just pisses me off. I'm not as forgiving I guess. Maybe alittle narcissistic. And I can't really blame my son totally for his actions, it was more the trucks fault. So now I'm doing what I can to get his life and him back on track, to be independent and able to live on his own so I can back to my own. I'm not going to be his baby sitter or entertainment director.

    Oh geez, you got me started here. Sorry. But I do understand what you're getting at. There are two sides to every story and life just throws you curve balls that you can't avoid.

  9. I want to re-frame my reaction to this a bit. I don't think your post is about judging. I mean, we simply have to make judgments thousands of times a day. If we don't judge, we don't decide. Safe vs. dangerous, affordable vs. unaffordable, risk vs. benefit, this is a better use of my time than that - and this person is one I want to ally with, but not THAT one.

    What you are talking about is learning to judge more wisely, with more perspective, in depth, and with compassion. You are talking about taking a second look before acting. I'm glad you did. I'm glad I did too.

  10. Karen--How funny! We were leaving comments on each other's blogs at the same time. Yes, there are whiners, and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Sometimes I can become a whiner about the whiners! Thanks for your comment.

    ryoko--Been there! I think of myself as the hope for every mother of a wayward child. If I turned out sort of okay, there is hope for all! Thanks for your comment.

    Mikey--You have hit on something that I would like to write more about. We use the word judging and judgment in different ways. It's good to have good judgment, but not to be judgmental. Where is the line? You described it very well. Thanks for this thought provoking comment.

  11. Really nice post ...a much needed reminder in our spiritual walk.Sending you a link to a similar post Ive recently written down.Its called lets stop playing the courtroom game!

  12. Sparkylaurie--I love your name! I will go read your post right now. Thanks for commenting.

  13. Galen,

    I loved the quote you kicked off with! Ugh, judgment! It's a big question on my mind these days. I enjoyed the humor you brought to the issue and well as the insight. Ugh, guess I need to look in the mirror and take it on.

  14. Hi Galen,

    Without realizing that you've written a post on judgments, I have just published one on perceptions and preconceived judgments. I enjoyed reading about your recent experience very much. I recall the time when I had been quick to judge a friend on being lazy and her shoddy work and then realizing later that I have done the same years ago at a job that I have had no passion over.

    Thanks for sharing an excellent post!!

  15. Sandra--"Ugh"--is that a judgment? Just kidding! When I'm focused on it, I'm surprised by how quick I am to judge things in ways that do not increase my joy. So we can work on this together. Thanks for commenting.

    Evelyn--I'm going right over to read your post. Great minds do think alike! Thanks for your comment.

  16. I consider myself an open-minded person who doesn't judge others and I (very self-righteously) frown upon those who do. And yes, I do realize the hypocrisy in that statement. Thanks for showing me that mirror!

  17. Thanks for that. I was feeling hard about my working relationship with a collegue tonight, and actually googled "happy place" and your blog came up. This post was the right one for me to read tonight. I totally agree that we see in others the faults we have in ourselves, and I really needed that reminder tonight.

  18. Kara--Great comment. Very funny! Didn't you just describe all of us?! Thanks.

    Anonymous--Welcome! I'm so glad you found the blog, and I'm especially glad you took the time to write a comment so that I know you were here (and how you found me). I hope you will visit again. And I hope your working relationship improves. Thanks for stopping by.


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