What is it about a new year that makes one want to do better, be better? Things like losing weight, quitting smoking, attending church regularly, calling loved ones more often, are all pretty predictable goals. But there’s another item that I think each and every one of us might add to the list of resolutions: Stop judging others.
“Who me?” you may well ask. “I don’t judge others. I’m realistic!”
As far as I can tell, judging others is just one big, self-serving distraction. It’s a smoke screen that conveniently obscures the work we really need to do on ourselves. More difficult by far to turn one’s attention inward, to still the cacophony inside one’s head long enough to hear what we’re really thinking. Chances are it’s not, “I hate homosexuals.”
I think judging others comes from a deep sense of dissatisfaction with one’s own life. From a place of profound disappointment, a place where you just can’t shake a nagging feeling that somehow, somewhere along the way, you got ripped off. You don’t feel as happy, as content, as you think you should. Especially with all the hard work you’ve done. What happened? Where did you go wrong? Instead of working to improve your own sense of satisfaction, you go the path of least resistance, lashing out at others, resenting them, blaming them.
I thought a Christian community was all about Christian values. Now I realize that whether it’s one person or thousands, the people who judge and find others wanting can really suck the oxygen out of the room, leaving everyone gasping for air like so many fish out of water. And for what? To make others feel as unhappy as they do?
It’s part of my job to read the mail that comes into this office. Some of it I consider hate mail, frankly. When someone writes to me, taking a whack at a person, an issue or an institution, indulging in the tearing down, the ripping apart, without giving serious thought to anything constructive, my heart sinks. “I’m smarter than you are,” the author seems to be saying. “I’m better than you-and everybody else like you.” I can almost hear the sing-song mockery echoing off moral high ground: nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyaaaaaaaaah, nyah!
Last June, at General Synod 2010, I learned that some people think the Anglican Journal is the mouthpiece of General Synod. This was indeed news, at least to me. I was told that some Anglicans in Canada, and perhaps elsewhere, consider the newspaper to be pro gay rights, and that basically, we don’t give a fig for anyone else’s views. I also heard a term used in a context that was new to me, and I felt shocked and saddened to realize this man was referring to Anglicans who don’t believe the church should be inclusive to all. He called them “haters.”
Even on a petty level, judging others undermines trust, a sense of community and a group’s ability to really dig deep and pull together. And there is so much work to do. What happened to make us turn against each other so? Surely this isn’t what Anglicanism is all about. Disagreement, discourse and discussion, yes. But disrespect, even hatred? Since we can’t drop a huge Valium into the drinking water, we’ll have to think of other ways to stop the blame game.
Me, I’m working on a kinder, gentler way to deal with myself. Part of this involves accepting my own shortcomings. Instead of looking in the mirror and thinking, “I really should invest in that flab-buster class at the Y,” I am going to focus on what’s right. “Vertical stripes really suit me!” I am hoping that if I can learn to stop judging myself, I will be in a better position to extend a benevolent attitude toward others.
“Kristin! Count your blessings!” my Nana used to say whenever she caught me whining. Good advice, which she took herself. Nana lived to 104 and the night she died, she thanked us for taking such good care of her. Glass half full, right to the end.
But keeping gratitude top of mind requires a conscious effort, something I keep forgetting to do. This year, I’ve vowed to change things. Whenever I catch myself thinking negative thoughts (aka “ruminating”), I take stock. Often, my shoulders are up around my ears, and my breathing is shallow. I tell myself, “Take a chill pill, Jenkins. Just breathe.”
So far, accepting my limitations and counting my blessings has been incredibly liberating. Nothing’s changed, of course, but I feel better, happier and less judgemental, of myself and everyone else. Of course the jury’s still out on whether or not this will make me a better person. But I can try. And with any luck, only God will be the judge of that. Ω
Kristin Jenkins is editor of the Anglican Journal.