Trying to Judge Not

I judge others, sometimes quickly and harshly. As my time and experiences in this world have expanded, my cynicism towards and judgment of others have as well. I realized recently that my judgment and the anger and frustration I sometimes feel as a result was holding me back and hindering me from being the person I needed to be, and I had to let it go to move forward.

A couple of weeks ago I stood in the kitchen, my arms crossed with a scowl on my face, in full judgment mode. I was irritated and trying to wrap my head around the situation K was presenting to me. Our friends had decided to give up their dog Juno after five years, and they planned to take her to the shelter, simply because she had become an inconvenience.

IMG_0708This dog is timid, quiet, mild-mannered, well behaved, listens, is house trained, and gets along with anyone. She is a dream dog! Her shy personality in conjunction with her age and large size would work against her in the shelter, not to mention her physical characteristics indicate that she is likely a mix of multiple breeds associated with aggressive behavior. There was no way we could sleep at night while this sweet dog sat in a cold, dark cage cowering at the shelter, alone and heartbroken.

So I was angry. I was angry that someone would do this, that people I know would do this. I was angry that they could so easily shirk their responsibilities and cast their dog aside without any accountability. I was angry when I learned that the dog was flea-infested and hadn’t been to the vet in years. I was angry that they were making their problem our problem. We already have three dogs of our own!

But this was the reality of the situation. I had to move on from my judgment and anger in order to show feelings of love and acceptance when K picked up the dog and brought her to our house. Dogs are sensitive to human feelings and behavior. The last thing this dog needed was to feel like she is just another problem. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable and welcome. I also did not want this situation to drive a permanent wedge between our friends and us. I realized that my judgmental attitude had left no room for empathy, and as hard as it was, I tried to see the situation from the other side in an effort to be more understanding and forgiving.

Many people are not responsible pet owners. I have had my own learning experiences as IMG_0744a pet owner and I understand the challenges. Many people do not form bonds with their pets the way others do, the way I do. This doesn’t make them bad people.

The lifestyle of our friends is very different from my own and is one to which I cannot relate. Much has changed for them over the past five years, many of those changes leading to added stress and overwhelming obstacles and obligations that I know would be difficult for anyone. I would like to think that I would continue to care for and nurture my dogs no matter what happens in my life, but I suppose I cannot be sure until something truly challenges that value. I hope something like that never happens.

Despite my disagreement with their overall care of Juno, our friends did call K and I before opting for the shelter, and we are grateful for that. We have had Juno for just over a week now. She is still adjusting, but she plays with our other dogs and likes to run around the yard. I think she’s homesick and maybe a little sad, but we try to mitigate that will lots of love and attention, and of course, treats.

K and I are thankful that we have the means to provide a home for Juno to keep her out of the shelter. We hope to find her a new home soon where she can live out the rest of her years with a loving family who will love and cherish her. In the meantime this is her home, and we dote on her as much as we can.

I know that I make mistakes. We all do. We all face situations in our lives that are hard and in which we make less than ideal decisions. We can judge each other for our actions, but those judgments reflect back on us as well, often in the form of anger and frustration. Letting go of those feelings allowed me to move past my judgment, keep my friendship intact, and focus on the more important tasks of making a positive difference, showing kindness, and providing a home for Juno.

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We All Go Through Something

“We all go through something in life.” These were the words Antoinette Tuff spoke to the man who entered the front office of the elementary school where she worked. The man was carrying an assault rifle and five hundred rounds of ammunition.

As a school administrator, Antoinette had been through training in preparation for situations like this. She kept a calm, business-like demeanor as she spoke with the armed man and relayed his messages to the 911 operator on the other end of the phone. I recently heard part of the 911 call replayed during a podcast. I heard Antoinette’s attempts to mitigate the situation and knew she must have been terrified. But it wasn’t her ability to stay calm under pressure that struck me, that caused tears to roll down my cheeks as I listened.

It was her compassion.

Antoinette saw something in the gunman that wasn’t clearly visible. She saw his pain and suffering and fear and loneliness. She saw recognized him as a person and attempted to relate to him, to connect with him, human being to human being.

The gunman gradually revealed in conversation that he wasn’t on his medication, that he wanted to go to the hospital, that he wanted to surrender. Antoinette offered to walk out of the school with him to make sure the police didn’t shoot him. As he waited instead for police to enter the school to detain and arrest him, Antoinette waited with him.

“We’re not going to hate you. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up. We’re not going to hate you.”

The gunman set his weapon down and lay on the floor, all the while talking of remorse and suicide. Antoinette continued to talk with him:

“It’s going to be alright, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you though, ok? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing that you’re just giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.”

“…I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now. I’m still working and everything is okay.”

She found a way to relate to him. She felt compassion for him, despite her fear. Not only that, but she expressed her love for him. She opened her heart and gave genuine love to another person, a stranger, a man who had walked into her school with a gun.

Listening to the recording of the call I couldn’t help but cry. The compassion and love was overwhelming. Sometimes that is all we really need – for someone to show a little compassion. Sometimes that is all we need to do – to be the type of person who is there to show that compassion.

I realized listening to Antoinette speak that I likely would not have had the same instinct as her. Attempting to connect with and relate to the gunman might never have crossed my mind at all. Even as the gunman, who was only 20 years old, surrendered, it probably would not have occurred to me to be compassionate, and that’s a sad thing. More likely I would have drawn a mental line in the sand that separated me from him, labeling us as entirely different people with nothing in common.

We may not always understand each other, but we all have certain things in common. We have all felt angry. We have all felt lost. We all want to love and to be loved. It’s important to recognize also that we all have our struggles. As Antoinette said, we all go through something in life. It isn’t easy for anyone.

Perhaps what we need is more practice in connecting with others on a more intimate level, on a more human emotional level. I, for one, know that I need more practice. Over the years I have gradually shied away more and more from deep personal relationships and recently decided to change that. Harnessing a sense of compassion and showing it towards others is a good way to start.

Love is another way. It is the ultimate in human emotion and need. We require love to survive. Perhaps if we spend more time and attention on the things and people we love and try to be more present in the existence of love around us, we will be more open and compassionate and connect more with each other on a deeper level.

We can generate more love and compassion, and perhaps one day we will use it to save someone.