Preface: I wanted to write to help society with the racism challenges we are facing. This isn’t that article. I hoped to write and smooth the disharmony of our political differences. This isn’t that article either. If we can’t tolerate the differences we feel with our closest friends and our family, (even our young children) we will never change the world. So, how about we start there.
Did the inside of your head ever chatter away with a whole host of judgmental mutterings while having tea with a friend? In my head it goes something like “She doesn’t understand how the world really is”, “Her view is limited” and my personal favorite “I am more right than she is.”
OK, so I just outed myself as judgmental. Yes. I am. I’m also very curious about where these voices come from, and how they can be an ally or path to freedom. Sure, these voices can come from a place of superiority (or more aptly inferiority), but for this moment I’m inviting you to look at them as something different. Consider the possibility that these judgmental voices are a very sophisticated defense, saving you from a ‘dangerous moment of difference.’
Let’s play this in slow motion. We’ll imagine it as an adult-to-adult interaction first. We can look at how this plays out in your parent-child relationship later. (spoiler alert…it’s exactly the same!)
So, you’re sitting at the table having tea with a friend, and because they are as unique as you, they see the world differently. The thing is that we humans haven’t really gotten a grasp on the whole ‘uniqueness’ thing. Not really, really. So, as you sit drinking tea, a gap arises between you and her. A gap in understanding. A gap in style. A gap in beliefs. A dangerous moment of difference is happening!
Let’s slowly zoom into that moment and feel what the gap feels like inside ourselves. What happens inside you at the subtlest of levels as you feel so very different from the person in front of you? As I zoom in and focus I notice a deep feeling of discomfort. My insides feel like coarse sandpaper, prickly or sharp edges. I feel the symptoms of panic and fear. The overarching theme, in my cells, is that I feel unsafe.
If I can tolerate these feelings, if I can consciously sit with them, if I can be ok with their existence, I’d have no need for a defensive response. My friend can be herself, and I can be me. But I’m an instinctive animal. We all are, and some responses happen faster than we can see. It’s not important whether we say it’s the “ego” or “instinct” that jumps in to save us from this deeply “dangerous moment of difference.” What is more useful is to ask, “How am I trying to save myself at this moment?”
Consider my original thoughts through a kinder lens. Imagine that they are the most sophisticated a self-saving strategy I’ve had until this moment. “She doesn’t understand how the world really is. Her view is limited. I am more right than she is.” Notice how these thoughts are full of blame, and like any blame or judgment, they push me away from my center, placing responsibility on the other. At the same time, I no longer need to feel anything that is coming up inside me. Bravo. No coarse sandpaper. No pricklines.No sharp edges. Phew! The judgment strategy has worked. It has saved me from (feeling) myself!
What would happen if you stopped judgments like these just as they leave your mind? If you dared, with open curiosity, to see what happens next without saving yourself from your inconvenient feelings?
I’m my experience, there seems to be an automatic process driven by the intent of this question. For a short inconvenient moment, I touch into my discomfort, sandpaper and prickliness, feeling every nuance of my own uncomfortable inner world. Then, as if by magic, the discomfort dissolves, leaving incredible spaciousness, trust and availability. In an instant, my friend becomes fascinating to me. She becomes perfect the way she is and luminous in her uniqueness.
From this place, I feel saner, more connected, more self-loving, more of all the good version of me! I love that I can let her be her. She becomes a gift in my world, and I receive her lovingly.
Feels nice, right?
Do you want to let your defensive judgments push you away from your own center or from your friends? What about your relationship with your kids?
Can you see how it’s the same with your kids? They ARE different to you. They don’t think or act the same way. You’d never scream and throw a tantrum in the aisle at the grocery store, but it’s happening, right now, in front of you and there is nothing you can do.
The gap is opening. The alarm bells are going off inside you. This is a very ‘dangerous moment of difference.’ Can you see how your defensive judgments are ready to push you away from your child? “Get me out of here. I’m not with this crazy person.”
During moments like these, it is time to drop in. Feel your inner discomfort. Stay with the feelings. Stay with yourself. Feel. Feel. Feel, and curiously see if spaciousness, trust, and availability will open in you.
If you can do this… then you will be you, and your child will be the person having a beautiful tantrum on the floor. One of her finest! From this position of open availability, you can step in and meet her, supporting her back to her center.
This moment of healed connection and resolution over tea with a friend or in your local supermarket aisle is significant for world peace. Truly. Each child raised with a parent who can do this will grow up learning to tolerate more and more difference. We will come to cherish both our individual uniqueness without feeling threatened by our extraordinary differences. They are the same thing and cannot exist without each other. When you spot the gap, drop inside. Liberation and peace are waiting right there for you.