A guest post by Shelly Lefkoe
As most of you know my beloved husband Morty has been through quite a journey. He was diagnosed with lymphoma some time ago and a few months ago became very, very ill. At that time our daughter Blake flew in from Hawaii for an indefinite stay to help care for him (she stayed three weeks); my other daughter Brittany came in from San Francisco where she now lives to spend a few days with us; my best friend of 50 years came from Nashville to stay with us for a week.
During the week I noticed that my daughters kept telling me what I was doing wrong. They pointed out that rather than saying to Morty, “Honey, are you thirsty; would you like something to drink?”, (in what I thought was a very loving voice) I would say, “Honey I know you’re sick but you have to drink more liquids (or walk more often, etc.)”) and on and on click site. Blake told me that whenever she or her sister ever tried to tell me about something they thought I was doing that didn’t work I got very defensive.
I sat down with my daughters and my friend
After Morty fell asleep one evening, the four of us sat down in the living room to talk. I proceeded to tell our girls that I felt judged and made wrong by them and that, although I knew it was very scary for them that their dad was sick, they needed to treat me with compassion too. They both apologized profusely and we agreed to be kind and loving to each other during this very tough time. We agreed to be “team Morty” and band together to love him back to health.
A few weeks later when Morty was feeling much better, Morty and I went to a concert with some dear friends of ours. It was his first outing in months! At dinner before the concert the wife (we were with a couple) was sharing how her husband Gary (not his real name) would never bash his ex wife to his kids–even though she had spent a lifetime bashing both him and his current wife to his kids. I asked him why he never criticized his former wife when she had spoken badly about him so many times. He replied, “I have tried very hard to be as conscious as I can. Speaking ill of others is not conscious.”
The importance of being conscious
before speaking or acting
I began to think about that. I realized that although I prided myself on having worked on being conscious for a very long time, I was far more conscious after I did or said something than I was before I acted. Reflecting on what Gary had said I realized his comment was very valuable and I committed to becoming more conscious before I spoke or took action.
I had another realization: It suddenly became very apparent to me that I always grow when I’m around Gary. I always feel very safe to look inside and be honest with myself about what’s not working. I shared that with Gary and when I did I realized why.
I never feel judged by him. I feel totally accepted and loved no matter how I’m being or what I’m saying or doing. That doesn’t mean he might not express disagreement about something I say or do (and that only rarely), but it is always a clean communication and never comes from judgment. I never get defensive around him and so I questioned, why did I usually get defensive around my girls whom I love with all my heart and soul.
My defensiveness came from my feeling judged
I realized that I felt judged by them. I felt not okay. I felt made wrong. And I suddenly realized that in the space of “no judgment” people have the space to look at themselves and grow. It was a very powerful distinction. When you feel you are being judged, you usually get defensive in an attempt to prove you didn’t do anything wrong.
I have become incredibly present to getting rid of my judgments and the best ways I know to do that is to get rid of beliefs that cause us to judge and to stop giving meaning to events.
For instance, the meaning my girls were giving my behavior was that I was not being kind to their dad. An alternative would have been not giving my behavior meaning and then making a suggestion that I do things differently, which I would have been totally open to.
We can make a bigger contribution when we stop judging
When we judge others, the meaning we’re usually giving their behavior is that their behavior is wrong and that they are wrong for acting that way, which almost always diminishes the other person. It keeps us from making the contribution we really to want to make to others.
For instance, if our child or spouse doesn’t do what we want them to do or doesn’t do things the way we want them to do it, most of us will usually get annoyed. The meaning we have given their behavior is, “They could have done what I wanted, or “They could have done it better” or “They don’t care about me or what I want.” Any of these meanings would lead to us feeling annoyed.
Here’s an example of how I used to act and the new way I am trying to act now. After my evening with Gary my younger daughter Brittany came to visit Morty. I was in a session when she arrived. When I had a break between sessions I walked out of my office to say hi and give her a kiss. I noticed that the lunch dishes were still on the table and there were dishes in the sink. I got annoyed and my first instinct was to say, “Brittany, I’m working and taking care of dad; couldn’t you at least have put the dishes in the dishwasher for me? “ The meaning I gave it was, she doesn’t care about me.
I dissolved that meaning, which enabled me to say instead, “Sweetie, I know you have a lot on your plate, but if you have time before you leave I would so appreciate it if you would put the dishes in the dishwasher.” She said, “Sure mom.” I went back to work and at the end of the day I walked in to a clean kitchen (and a better relationship with my precious daughter.)
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