My friend told me a story once, of how she fell for one man – a story that tells of the gentle miracle of total acceptance.
Before that, she was only dating him casually, undecided about her feelings. There was a long and stressful week in particular, and at the end of it she was storming around in his room, yelling and venting her anger at everything in sight. She suddenly stopped when she noticed what he had been doing.
He had been silent the whole time, watching her with a soft expression in his eyes, a very slight hint of a smile on his lips. She told me she felt her anger rise even more and demanded to know – was he laughing at her anger?
He remained silent for a few seconds, and told her that she was so beautiful when she was angry. She told me her anger melted away immediately, replaced by a feeling she’s never had before. Other men had told her she was beautiful, but only when she was dressed up, made up, prim and proper. Those same men, like most of us, saw anger as crude and nasty – but that man accepted her even then. Even then, she repeated with a sigh as she finished her story.
We have previously discussed the nature of unconditional, non-judgemental, attention. This article covers some of the obstacles that can get in the way.
Practice; be mindful. Make it a habit, the next time you are with a loved one, to ask yourself – what is going inside me? Can you see these impulses when they arise, and let them fall away again without acting on them?
Not Injecting Our Opinions or Advice
The first impulse to catch is the desire to give our opinions and advice. We all secretly think we have a hold on the truth. Everyone should be like us, we think. We have all the answers, the right way to behave, the right way to be.
Imagine an upset spouse telling you of failed job interview; how many of us would project our values, our skills, our life onto them?
“See now – that was the wrong thing to say… You should have said… If I was in your shoes, I would have practiced my interview skills more…”
We do this with the best intentions; but can we detect the subtle, unintended insult? Can we see the pride we are acting from; how we are adding another layer to their existing pain – that they now also feel stupid, petty, or unimportant?
In some cases, there might be advice that would be genuinely helpful. What if he fails his job interviews because of a huge mistake he was unaware of? Would you tell him, and when? There are no concrete rules. I don’t really know, and invite you to share your opinions.
In my experience, the best time to give advice is when you are asked for it. Just a gentle suggestion, only after they’ve been allowed to have their full experience. It also helps to ask yourself – why do you really want to give advice? Sometimes, it is out of a selfish desire, not genuine concern. These points will be further discussed below.
Not trying to change or manipulate.
The next impulse: wanting them, or the situation, to be a certain way. These tendencies can be rather obvious. A friend comes to us for a shoulder to cry on, and we snap at them to leave us alone; a child is crying and his parents – frustrated and tired – simply tell him to shut up.
But subtle desires can cause just as much damage. Wanting someone’s affection and approval is common and innocent, but can you see the manipulative behaviour it can cause? How do we give our loving focus when our thoughts are occupied – trying to get them to think of us a certain way, wanting to coax a compliment from them? How do we listen when we are merely thinking about what to say when it is our turn to speak?
Sometimes it is the situation we are trying to change, no matter how senseless and futile it might be. Two lovers are out for a romantic evening, but they miss the movie because of heavy traffic. Disappointment is normal, but how would one feel if the other had snapped at her – “This is your fault! Why did you take so long in getting dressed?” What difference does it make now?
These tendencies can be very subtle; so pervasive that we are unaware of them. David Richo gives a striking example of this, a statement he heard once – this baby will save our marriage. How painful it is, to have expectations placed on us even before we are born!
Not Judging Explicitly
And the last impulse: making our judgements known. Not judging at all is impossible; but we can keep them to ourselves. If we are not careful, these judgements creep into even our most mundane interactions, faster than we can catch them. A boy spends the entire afternoon writing a song to go with his new guitar. His father comes in and points out a grammar mistake, or casually mentions how he learnt the guitar in half the time.
Be very alert for this tendency, for it is hard to hide. How would someone feel, if they were crying, and they saw a half-disguised expression on your face that said – I wouldn’t have gotten upset over something that petty!
This pain is made worse when we are judged on something we cannot change. As an example, why does racial discrimination hurt more than being judged for our clothes, our job, or our social status? I don’t know, but just perhaps – it is because our race is an immutable, intrinsic part of who we are, just like our feelings, our most private beliefs.
Some Areas of Judgement
Below is a quick list of common but often overlooked ways we judge a person. Read through the list and see what jumps out – or what you skip over automatically – for these are signs that it means something.( I left out emotions and beliefs as we have discussed them already.)
Social and Economic Status: What do they work as? Do they seem educated? Do they seem rich or poor?
Appearance: What race are they? Are they ugly or attractive? What do their clothes say about them? Are they too short or too tall or too fat or too skinny? Good skin, bad skin? Cellulite?
Mannerisms and Behaviours: How do they speak? How do they behave? Stupid jokes? Dumb smile? A twitch that gets on your nerves? A facial expression?
History: Do you treat someone differently based on their past? What if she has been in jail? What about their reputation? Another example: how will you react if you believe in traditional family values, and someone admitted to you he had cheated on his wife?
Can you free your loved ones to be who they are, to explore every aspect, positive or negative, without fear of condemnation?
This article was written with mundane, non-abusive, situations in mind. Please remember we are discussing unconditional acceptance and respect for all involved. This includes you, and never means we abandon self-protection, self-respect, or ethical action.
The first goes to Sherri and Gwynn of Serene Journey, who have created a lovely retreat from the world. A recent post of theirs really ties into what we are discussing here: Emotional Bank Accounts.
The next is an old friend, Andrea Hess of Empowered Soul. I’ve enjoyed her short and yet packed posts for a very long time. A recent post that also ties in, in a slightly different way, to our topic: Empowering Relationships.