My children have always been my most effective teachers. They show me the places I miss the point with their eyes. They demonstrate as gently as they can, what it feels like and what it doesn’t when you are listened to. Our family is an opinionated bunch, which with differing points of view, can make for both lively dinner conversation and not uncommonly, hurt feelings. Without question they learned their own minds well by being steeped in my powerful judgments which, whether correct or not, did not often leave room for the listening that I now so highly prize.
It was my son who taught me this lesson so deeply last week when he joined me on a walk with a close friend who is taking a volunteering vacation to an orphanage in Equador with her daughter. Something about this luxurious travel and the short stay help in the orphanage struck him powerfully in his sense of justice. As I watched him insist on his point, even as my friend agreed with his premise, I saw myself a hundred times. Whatever he was struggling with about this idea of spending so much resource to help on this helping expedition would not allow for any new information.
Coming from years of experience with powerful judgments that triggered my sense of injustice, I was able to hear the echoes of many friends over the years who have expressed their frustration at my inability to listen or even my certainty, which prevented me from wanting to know their experience. As I watched my son caught in the same predicament, I felt at once sad and liberated. Sad at how I had trained him in this, and sadder still for all of the true relating that my judgments had kept me from. But I also felt deeply grateful to be able to see how judgment locks the door from any ability to receive.
My son, who has always been a guide to open-mindedness, knew right away how unfair the conversation had been. He knew that he didn’t ask any questions that would have helped him understand the research and effort my friend had put into being able to help at this orphanage. Judgment is not curious, it doesn’t want to know what it can’t see.
As I have been learning to lean into situations that I used to judge with my heart, what I have come to see is how much more to life there is beyond what we think we know. Whether the judgment is of a close friend, or a small marital debate, or of the problem of poverty in Haiti, leaning towards the situation with an open heart lets you see how much more there is than what we first believed.
Judgment keeps us from compassion because we close off to our own hearts. We are not able to receive anything that is outside of our point of view, which is always narrow. Learning to receive is the foundation of loving people because it offers them the room to be just as they are. Our best judgments, even when they are correct, imprison us in a world that we think we are improving by our beliefs. In actuality it cuts us off from the world, because it shuts the door to the people we love and shuts us off from being connected to the largeness of how things really are.