I like to think that I am someone who doesn’t judge. That I can always find compassion for anyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. That after this 45-year spiritual journey I’ve finally risen to a sort of monk-like zen-like stoicism, that my feathers are un-ruffle-able, that I can keep my head when all about me are losing theirs. That I calmly dwell above the petty human rivalry that plagues the ranks of the less-enlightened.
Yes, at last, this is who I have become.
Unless you’re talking about seventh grade girls’ B-team basketball, then all bets are off. Then you betta back it up, cause I’m about to go all Bobby Knight on yo ass.
That’s my way of saying that I disappointed myself at our daughter’s basketball game last week. I experienced levels of anger I didn’t know I still had. I made sweeping assumptions about an entire group of people and gave myself permission to hate all of their effing guts. I didn’t make a scene or anything, I just felt deep levels of private contempt within my person.
And that’s just not something I do.
The story itself is not that interesting. In one sentence, we lost bad in the tournament finals to a team whose families seemed (to me) to be the type of people I dislike most in this world, and much of their behavior before and during the game seemed (to me) to support my dislike for them. It doesn’t matter what type of people they were, that’s not what this is about. Feel free to fill that blank in however you want. Everything that follows will still apply.
The good news is that it’s given me a lot to think about, as failures always do. How did these people manage to push all my buttons at once? And, I have buttons?
By now it’s a well-established truth in the prestigious field of armchair psychology that we dislike in others what we most dislike in ourselves. That when our knickers get unusually knotted over other people’s behaviors, it’s often an unconscious, vicious rejection of the parts of ourselves we most despise.
In other words, if I really hate you, it’s likely because deep down I’m afraid that I might be like you in some way. I see something in you that I fear might be in myself. I’ve stuffed that thing way down so I don’t have to deal with it. And now here you are, flaunting it in my face, and I resent you for making me look at it.
In other other words, when I’m hating on you, I’m actually unconsciously hating on myself.
Sometimes it’s our past that we’re ashamed of. There’s something we’re desperately trying to live down. I know lots of ex-Christians who are vehemently, vocally vicious toward religious people.
Or maybe it’s the present, maybe it’s something about ourselves right now that we just can’t face squarely. It’s been shown that an unusually obsessive anger against gay people often covers deeply buried homosexual feelings in one’s self.
Or perhaps it’s something we fear about our future. As economic pressures in this country build, so do disdainful comments toward the poor, spoken by the wealthy. I’ve never seen such angry rhetoric directed at the lower class as I see right now, and I wonder if most of the emotion behind it comes from an unconscious anxiety about our own collective financial future. We hate the poor because we desperately fear poverty ourselves.
Our hatred is a powerful, explosive tool against the parts of ourselves we’d rather not face. Like a stick of dynamite. We use it to blow a wide gap between who we believe we are and who we once were, or fear we are now, or worry we might someday become.
The trouble with that, of course, is that when you hate someone for reminding you of yourself, you’re actually hating yourself. You’re beating up a part of you that’s already hiding in a dark corner, ashamed and terrified. You don’t want others to see it, you don’t want to see it in yourself, and you don’t even want to see it in others.
So this is where a lot of hatred begins, I think. As hatred of the self. As refusal to accept and love the whole self, all of you, even the parts you think are weak and flawed and unpresentable.
Which means, then, that the key to compassion for others is learning compassion for yourself.
The key to loving others is loving yourself first.
The key to becoming non-judmental of others is first to figure out how to stop judging yourself.
The key to forgiving others is first, somehow, to forgive yourself.
Jesus said that before you go removing a little speck of sawdust from your friend’s eye, first pull that enormous 2 x 4 out of your own. That way you can see things more clearly. You aren’t able to appreciate another person (or group of people) for who they really are if your vision is blurred and distorted by your own self-contempt.
So in the week since the game I’ve been thinking about all this, testing out this theory. Asking myself why I got so wrapped around the axle about those people. Isolating the things about them that drove me to distraction. I’m making a list, then searching for matches among my own shames and fears and insecurities.
And guess what. There are several.
So I’m pulling those things up into the light and looking at them, wondering why I’ve treated them with such disdain. Wondering how I might shift my attitude, how I might treat all the parts of me with kindness instead of hate, understanding instead of rejection, forgiveness instead of condemnation.
Hoping this might be a path toward a life of more perfect compassion for everyone else. For real this time.
Because I really want that someday.