Friday, December 11, 2015

Silent Judgement

Yesterday I was visiting my sister and her family. We had just finished dinner and it was time for my younger nephew to wrap up his homework. I had already watched him do his reading and math homework right after school without any hesitation, but when it came to his spelling words it was a different story.

They have this program at his school where the kids have to practice their spelling words each day in a different "creative" way. Some of the choices were to write them in rainbow letters, to write them in a tree, to cut the letters out of a magazine and to write them with the opposite hand you would normally write with. My nephew had already done the rainbow letters and the tree, and he didn't want to take the time to cut them out of a magazine, so he had to write them left-handed.

I am not sure why the school makes the kids do this. Maybe they think by writing the words in all of these different ways, the kids are more likely to remember them. Or maybe they think it makes spelling more fun. If that is what they are going for, based on my experience yesterday I can tell you that it definitely did not make spelling more fun!

Actually, I remember a very similar incident in October where my nephew had to write his spelling words in "spooky handwriting" for Halloween, and it elicited the same reaction. I was the only one home with him at the time and we ended up holding the pencil together and I helped him make the spooky letters by purposely making his hand tremble as he wrote.

Just like with any situation involving an abstinent child, we explored the full spectrum of responses including pleading, bribery with a cookie, threats of punishment and even an invitation for all of us to write with our left hand so he would feel more comfortable. Throw in some light-hearted teasing from his older brother and we were on the verge of experiencing a complete meltdown.

As we all sat around the kitchen counter hovering over him, my sister finally said to him "Come on, let's just do this. Aunt Becky is silently judging us."

And there it was. We had reached the heart of the matter, not just for my nephew but for my sister as well. When there is silence, we assume there is judgement.

I experienced that same feeling when I was at my sister's house a few weeks ago. One of the things I have been considering as a next step in my career is to start my own business. I am envisioning it as a life simplification company. It would start with some basic offerings of closet organization services, with a broader goal of integrating some mindfulness practices to help people get to the root cause of all of the clutter and over-consumption in their lives.

Right now, my company is just an idea that rattles around in my head. I have started some research and made some notes, but I am not sure exactly where to take it from here. It is intimidating to put something out there.

When I was talking with my sister and her husband that evening, she asked me about my plans. "So, tell me about your new company. What is your business model?" And then she sat back in her chair and casually sipped on a glass of wine while she waited for my response.

In that moment, I was caught off guard. I felt like a kid in school when the teacher has just asked you a question in front of the whole class, and maybe you weren't exactly paying attention leading up to that point.

Eventually, I responded with "I don't want to tell you, because I don't want you to judge me!"

We all have felt this way at times. And the more insecure we are about a situation, the more likely we are to feel like we are being judged. Researcher Brene Brown labels this feeling as shame, and she believes it is directly tied to our feelings of worthiness. For many of us, our sense of worthiness is conditional. These conditions may be linked to our own internal struggle of whether we are "good enough" and may include thoughts like:
  • What will people think?
  • You can't really love or accept yourself until you are (richer, thinner, more successful, have a better relationship, buy a bigger house, write a novel, etc.)
  • No one can find out about (insert your deepest darkest secret here.)
  • Who do you think you are to put your thoughts/ideas/art out into the world?
  • I'll just pretend that everything is ok and no one will know.
Rather than feeling inherently worthy of love and belonging, too often we find ourselves hustling to prove our worthiness. So much so, Brown says, that we don't even realize we are dancing. Of course there are societal pressures, but most of the expectations are the ones we place on ourselves.

She goes on to explain that the stories of our struggles are difficult for everyone to own. And if we have worked hard to make sure everything looks "just right" on the outside, the stakes are high when it comes to truth telling. This is why shame loves perfectionists - it is so easy to keep us quiet.

There are two components to silent judgement. The silence comes from the other person, but the judgement comes from within us. In reality, I wasn't judging my sister at all. My silence was merely a way to avoid interfering and adding another voice to an already complicated parenting situation. And my sister wasn't trying to sit in judgement of my new business idea. She just wanted me to come over and help clean her closets.

Maybe my young nephew had those same feelings of silent judgement. I know how uncomfortable it is for me as an adult to try something unfamiliar, let alone to do it in front of an audience. And yet, for a child those situations happen all the time. They are constantly learning new things and being placed into unfamiliar territory. And somehow we expect them to jump right in without any fear or apprehension, as if it is part of the learning process.

By all of us standing around watching him attempt to do something that he wasn't sure he could do, it made him feel self-conscious. When we all left the room for a few minutes, by the time we came back somehow those spelling words were written on the page.

Whether it is parenting, starting a new business venture or writing our spelling words left-handed, we all want to feel assured that we are doing it right. Yet, a true sense of belonging and acceptance comes not from telling other people all of the ways we got it right, but from being able to share stories of the times we totally got it wrong. And by showing empathy, compassion and understanding for each other in times of struggle.

It is only by speaking openly and honestly with each other that we can silence the judgement that exists within ourselves.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Humans judge. It is a survival feature.

Cupcake said...

I agree it is a natural tendency to judge. I find that by bringing awareness to those kinds of thoughts I am able to catch myself - even if it is after the fact - and remind myself to practice compassion.

Anonymous said...

Back to getting caught off guard, I'm hoping for this

"I want something random, indescribable, beautiful, and unexpected. I want to be caught off guard and swept impossibly too high off my feet."