Who Are You/I To Judge? Learn To See People Like Trees


I saw this post on a friend's facebook wall and was reminded of my greatest challenge and greatest work. I read it and thought, "yes. This is right. I need to do this more. I think people need to do this more."

It was especially poignant because I've been feeling my inner critic, my critical mind as Pema Chodron calls it, sort of taking over the joint lately. I know it's because my own life is in such constant and furious transition; change is so good and can also be such a challenge. I get those feelings out, in part, by displacing frustration, anxiety and feeling a lack of control via my biggest vice: judging. Judging people, judging society, judging myself--harshly. I see this happening all over facebook and hear it in the words of others more clearly, perhaps because I'm increasingly more aware of my own habit of doing it.

When we judge ourselves and others, we lose connection to them. We lose compassion for self and the beautiful imperfection of each person. We lose sight of the truth that we are all miraculous works in progress, each trying to get through a day doing our best with the best we have.

I was born and bred to be a judge. My mom passed it down from her mom. Perhaps my great-grandmother was a judge, too. I didn't know her. It's probably a safe bet.

But I grew out of it for a short while when I was in the company of a wonderful community in my early twenties. There wasn't much time or need for judging because I was surrounded by love and fun and joy in my career and my relationships.

Then, I fell in with a crowd of some fierce judges. They used the guise of "social justice" as the validation but the tone and tenor of their thoughts, words and actions were undeniably clear: JUDGMENT. Hanging around that scene nurtured what was already a really bad habit of mine so it probably wasn't an accident that I "found" that community. I must have had more work to do on that part of myself.

For years, I justified my behavior of harshly judging and criticizing others' thoughts, words and actions because that's what everyone else was doing. We rationalized the behavior and enabled it in each other. The lessons I learned about difference were framed with the message of suffering as a victim. I was taught that differences meant someone lost and someone won. I learned that it was my job to suffer because others were suffering. I learned to take a back-seat and speak up for people instead of encouraging them to find and use their own voices.

All of this has merit, but it was a flawed philosophy. It's true that I learned a lot about identity and perspective-taking and privilege, but I came away from that community more damaged than healed and it's taken me years to see it and come back from it.

I keep quite a few of those folks on my newsfeed to remind me of how far I've come and how far I have yet to go.

Judging ourselves and others is a habit. It's pervasive and rooted in my own self-esteem and self-confidence. The saying goes, "we judge in others what we don't accept about ourselves." I'm judging myself right now for sharing this so openly and honestly. But what bothers me more about this social media thing than the false sense of connection with each other, is the false sense of identity people present. I'd rather be inspiring from a place of honesty than a false pretense.

So, I am integrating the best of that old philosophy I was taught into a new model. I am learning to see people like trees, as Ram Dass says. Seeing them for the ways they've been shaped and molded based on what they've endured---but not judging them for it, because the judging won't change anything. Loving does.

I am practicing this, especially when feeling most triggered, most frustrated and most disempowered in my life. I want to practice doing the best with what I have and what I've been given and inspire others to do the same, even though we are given and have different things.

I am learning to see myself like a tree, shaped by periods of brilliant light and perhaps a lack of nutrients at certain points but standing strong, despite.


We All Want to Feel OK.

  We all want to feel OK. We want someone to tell us that our dress looks nice, that our haircut works and our cooking skills are decent. That we are good parents. That what we do makes a difference in the world.

Day in and day out, we get all these messages from the media telling us how to think, feel, act, walk and even talk! I remember the facebook group I joined years ago that was called, "I judge you when you use poor grammar". What an ass I was back then.

If I've learned nothing else from this past year, I learned the universal need to feel included, to not feel weird, to feel OK. Belonging and acceptance are things we all need and crave, no matter who we are. Whether it's my LGBTQ friends who just had a baby and got asked some wacky questions or my heterosexual friend who painted her son's toenails yellow while on vacation this summer.

Wait. I'll slow down for a second.

Yes, she's heterosexual and cisgender (meaning, her birth sex and her chosen gender are a good fit for her) and she painted her sons toenails. He's two and adorable and he saw his mom using a brush with colored paint and wanted in on that fun. Um, sounds like something any kid would do when something that looks like art supplies are around, right? Right. And for some of my queer and queer-friendly pals, this is like a no-brainer. Freedom of gender expression at age two? Why not?!

But this was the response my friend got:

"Oh my God. His toes are painted"

"Ehhh, how does his Dad like that?"

Not only were these people judging her choices as a parent, they were also making (negative) assumptions and assertions about her friends. Not cool.

Many people in the LGBTQ community spend a lot of time focusing on the courage it takes to be themselves. There is a lot of focus and talk about the challenges people face just waking up and being our amazing selves each day. Add different identities to the mix like race, physical abilities and class, and the challenges multiply.

We all want to feel OK and be treated with respect. 

And everyone else feels the same way, LGBTQ or not. The courage it took for my friend to paint her son's nails is the same courage anyone needs to face any sort of rejection. She probably knew that she'd get a different reaction from folks that day than if someone more open-minded were sitting there beside her, cheering her on and telling her she missed a spot, but she took a deep breath and did it anyway. It was an expression of who she is, as a person.

Her need to feel ok is the same as my friends, a lesbian couple, who adopted a baby, recently. Instead of the normal questions like, "so, how much does he weigh? is he sleeping through the night?" they got asked things like, "so, which one of you is the man?"

That's another post for another day.

But hopefully you get the point. Putting yourself out there takes guts, no matter who you are. We all want to be OK and there's really no hierarchy when it comes to vulnerability, shame and the desire to feel accepted and included, exactly as we are. 

Brene Brown is rocking this topic like a champ, lately, so if you need more inspiration around shame, I highly recommend her work.

and while you're clicking around, go visit my friend Michelle Pfennighaus, the toenail painter I mentioned, and send her some love for being her brave, authentic self. Her website is right here:

If we all want the same thing, what are you doing to help make it happen? Are you focusing so much on your own feelings of fitting OUT that you are missing how connected you are to others?

Do you think you can change the world, one person at a time, just by being yourself?

I'm doing a lot of work on this lately, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Please share below.