new puppy

Overcoming Willful Ignorance

One of the good things 2020 has given me is reconnection with old friends. For the past few months, I have been meeting weekly with a chum from college, Sammy. We have terrific conversations which range from intelligent and informed to silly and sassy.

One of the phrases Sammy uses frequently is how people being “willfully ignorant” really upsets him. To him, the right action, the right thought, the right way to be is obvious. And if it is obvious to him, that means other people are choosing to be contrary to what is right and definitely true. This week however, Sammy shared a story where he was the one perceived as being willfully ignorant.

little sister mei mei the new puppy
Little sister Mei Mei

Sammy has been posting frequently about his soon-to-be new puppy from a breeder. I had thought it was strange that he would purchase from a breeder as I assumed he would choose a rescue as he had in the past. One of his other friends thought the same thing and confronted him with her anger that he would be so willfully ignorant in choosing to purchase a pet from a breeder. He was outraged that she could accuse him of doing something socially and ethically wrong. How dare she judge him without asking him why he was doing what he was doing. I shared with him that I too wondered why he went that route and he had a very valid reason; short story is one of his rescue dogs will not be in this world much longer and the remaining anxiety-ridden rescue dog needs a new safe non-threatening companion and a puppy from a breeder is the only option.

Inspired by this event, let us explore the concept of willful ignorance.  Through the rest of this article, think of when you have accused others or been accused yourself of willful ignorance and therefore judged and convicted of wrongdoing before all the facts were known.

Who Made You the Judge?

I am judgmental. It is my inherent nature. My Myers-Briggs and Enneagram results confirm this. Even if you are not inherently disposed to be judge and jury like me, we all have experienced times where we assumed we have the right to judge others. Unless we are literally an elected judge whose job it is to determine if an action goes against a law, we should not judge.

Judgment without Facts

Both myself and Sammy’s other friend assumed it was absolutely wrong that anyone would purchase from a breeder. Like most controversies today, we only saw black-and-white; either you adopted a pet, or you were a horrible person. Neither of us sought understanding before we passed our judgment.

Seeing Only from My Perspective

The problem with how we reacted to Sammy’s choice was that we judged his actions from our perspective, experience, and beliefs. We did not seek to find out his perspective and why he chose what he did. If we had, we would have understood his backstory and that he was making a conscious appropriate decision.

I was called-out on a similar unconscious bias a few weeks ago. I had posted a meme vigorously proclaiming how those who do not return shopping carts to the corrals are in the wrong. I had posted it because I like to return the shopping cart every time I am able as I know I am becoming self-absorbed when I don’t. What a friend pointed out to me is that I have no right to dictate or assume what others should do. He brought up valid points that those who do not return carts my be physically unable or that they may not have a car. Usually I think twice before I post and I didn’t this time. Honestly, I was so focused on my own thoughts, beliefs and actions, that I didn’t really read what the post was implying about others. I appreciated my friend calling me out on my self-focus.

It is Me and You not Us and Them

When we are caught up in our own beliefs and judgments, we group people as this label or that type making them lose their humanity. What is hurting our society right now is not only that we judge, but that we lump people into groups. We are all shades of gray. We are all good and bad. We all have value and we all have foibles. When we dump someone into a group or a label, we miss out on connection and understanding.

As you go about your week, look for your desire and need to judge others. Watch how you lump people together by one action or aspect of their being. Notice how you leap to conclusions without knowing the whole story. Instead, make real one-to-one connections and seek to understand. Understanding leads to empathy and change. We can make the world better, one interaction at a time.

good omens - angel demon

Accepting Humanity

My friend and talented author, Nan, introduced me to the Good Omens series based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The video series has been my go-to escape during The Big Time Out we have all been given. It is funny, brilliant, and very insightful.

One of the main lessons I learned through the Good Omens series is that we are neither inherently good or bad, we are just human. We have days where we can act like perfect angels. We have other days where we make choices, say things, or act in a way that is purely demonic. In truth, however, we are neither good nor bad. We are just human. This concept has helped me accept myself, and others, at a deeper level than I had been able to before.

Most of my life, I tried to be that angel. Acting perfectly. Striving for more. Looking for recognition. And I completely ignored where I was a demon. Saying the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time. Allowing my own fears to self-sabotage my dreams. Attacking others to keep from falling into my own insecurities. Until recently, I thought one day I could be all angel. Now I have come to accept that I will always be part angel and part demon. This acceptance helps me feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. I embrace and accept my full humanity.

Good Omens - angel and demon

This acceptance of myself, has also helped me accept others. What if I met you on one of your demon days? Is it fair to think that how you acted on your worst day, is who you are all the time? Or what about the times when all we see of someone is angel and then are devastated to see their dark side? No one is perfect all the time in all ways. Having unrealistically high expectations for another – or ourselves, only leads to disappointment.

In a snippet of talk by Ram Dass, he adds another facet to the idea of self-acceptance. Ram Dass responded to the question “how do we love ourselves more”, with an answer of “why we need to accept ourselves fully”. Ram Dass was pointing out what I do so well, judge. I judge myself. I judge others. I judge the actions of society as a whole. But judging does more harm than good. Judging separates us. It is natural to notice our differences, but to attack or demean another, or our ourselves, because of the difference leads to separation and hate.

What is interesting to explore is what we are using to judge. Who sets the rules and the measuring stick? When I was younger, I judged myself against the super-skinny models of the 1970’s, to which I would always lose. As I changed careers, I judged myself against others’ success and notoriety. I have even judged myself against others’ spiritual depth. In all these instances, I had to first decide by which scale to judge myself and other people.

Ram Dass gives a nice example of when someone is in a forest, they just enjoy the trees. Unless they are a lumberjack and have a scale to judge trees, the forest walker only sees the beauty of the forest as a whole or the uniqueness of a single tree. The person does not judge each tree as too crooked or too short. They just are. Which begs the question, why do we judge ourselves and others? Why can’t we accept ourselves and others as we are? Why do we feel we should and have the right to judge ourselves and those around us? Are we not just trees in the forest of humanity? By judging ourselves and others we are missing out on the absolute beauty and peace of acceptance and understanding.

What scale do you judge yourself and others by? Where did you learn and agree to that scale? How do you feel when you judge? Self-righteous, better-than, superior or fearful, lacking, and victimized? How would your experience and life change if you no longer judged, and just accepted people as they were?

stuck in a prison

Cut ’em Some Slack

Over the last few years, I have watched as many people have become more and more black and white in their thinking. There are good guys and bad guys. There are people who agree with us and people who are wrong. There are angels and devils. There are the saved and the damned. There are Bears fans and Packer fans. Once we have labeled someone, they are stuck in that container. How many times do we label someone based on one aspect of their being or one mistake that they made?

Think of the most stupid thing you have done. Think about your biggest regret. How would it feel if you were judged for the rest of your life on only your largest gaffe? No one would remember the good that you did. No one would take in consideration your great sense of humor or intelligence. No one would see or consider anything besides this one foible. Wouldn’t feel that great, right?

Now consider, how unfair and unkind is it of you to judge others on only their mistakes.

Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

We are all human. We are created to make mistakes. We are by nature, fallible. One of the biggest gifts we can give to ourselves and others, is to be accepting, tolerating, and loving despite and maybe even because of our faults and failings. When we can love ourselves and others, warts and all, we are giving respect. We are giving space to improve. We are being realistic. We are being inclusive. We are providing a platform for growth and problem solving.

When we judge and label based on one incident or one aspect of a person, we are limiting their and our potential. If we only focus on the bad someone has done, we don’t see them as a full human being. Many times this is why prisoners are mistreated. All that is seen is that they broke the law (one aspect of their life) and are therefore bad. We don’t see their humanity. We don’t see that they were once children. We don’t see the people they helped out in the past. We don’t see their struggles. We don’t see the challenging situation they were born into. They are just labeled as criminals and sent away.

This does not mean that we excuse and accept bad behavior. It is ok and actually very important to create strong boundaries to protect ourselves and those we care about. And it is important to see and accept people for more than just one bad act.

If you find yourself judging someone, you may want to take some time to process why you are labeling them based on one aspect of their character. Why is it so important to you? Why does it hold so much weight for you? How does it feel to convict them for this sole action? How does convicting them also imprison you?

As you go about your week, notice how you are labeling and categorizing people by one aspect of their character. How does it make you feel and react when you focus on this sole aspect? How might you deal with them differently when you are able to open up to see them wholly? How do you think about them and react to them when you focus on more than one aspect of their being?

grid of multiple aspects of people

More about narcissism

Narcissism is something I think most of us understand and some of us maybe have had first-hand experience with, and now all of us perhaps have a certain figure or two in mind who exhibit classic narcissistic behaviors. A little while back I wrote about how to deal with the narcissists in our life. What I would like to explore now is how to not have black and white opinions about those with narcissistic tendencies.

Whether a person has narcissistic or other negative behaviors, it is easily to label them as bad. As we learned about our own shame, we want to be careful to only label the action, and to not label the person. Behaviors and actions can change if we are willing. Just as we want forgiveness for when we are not at the best, we owe it to others to not judge and condemn them for their actions. All of us can act bad at times (guilt), but we should not be forever labeled as a bad person (shame).

If you are like me, you may often see things in a continuum. We see people on one end of a spectrum or another. For example, either you are a liberal or conservative. For this discussion, you may see the line as being narcissist on one side and being empathetic on the other. What I have come to believe is that no person is on a single continuum. We are more like a chili with multiple ingredients. We all have some narcissism and some empath in us. I like to think of it more like a bar chart with multiple possible combinations.

In the chart above, the first person is more of the typical narcissist. This person is strong in both self-centeredness and victimhood; they see the world as all about them and feel they are unfairly treated. On the other hand, Person 2 is more the classic victim. This person does not think of themselves and often focuses on others, leaving Person 2 feeling like a victim of others’ actions. The final example is a fairly healthy person. They have a strong sense of self, balanced with empathy. They take care of others and have good boundaries so they can take care of themselves.

We all have different elements in us, and these elements may shift depending on who we are with and the situation. I often hear how people can be loving and kind to a stranger, but have a hard time being as accepting and compassionate to their own family. It is also important to remember that we are all ever changing, and we all have the capacity to change.

Before labeling someone as a narcissist or putting them in some other negative descriptor ask:

  • Does this person always act like this, 24/7, 365?
  • Do they act differently around others than they do around me?
  • Do they only have one negative facet to their personality, or do they also have other positive facets? (In the example above, even though Person 1 exhibited high narcissistic/victim behaviors, they were also caring and giving to others – maybe with a self-serving motive in mind, but yet, they give.)
  • Can I name three times this person acted in ways other than the negative way I am perceiving them?

When we label someone, we sentence them to be that certain way for the rest of their life. Even if they do not act that way ever again, we can only perceive them as we have labeled them. Just as we would wish that others treat us with an open and forgiving mind, all those we interact with deserve to be treated with compassion and openness as well.

It is important to note that being understanding and accepting of other’s negative behaviors does not mean you have to put up with them. Healthy boundaries can protect you from other’s behaviors and provide you with the ability to be compassionate, without hurting yourself.

Understanding, acceptance, and healthy boundaries can certainly make for a better world.