Who are we to judge?
In this time of so much controversy, so many personal opinions differ, and while some keep it to themselves, others are quite vocal. How do we handle that in our daily life? I was talking with a friend the other day, a friend I have had for many years, and while I have heard her off color comments before, I ignored them and never said a word. But recently she made a comment that I could not tolerate and was so against many things I feel strongly about, I had to stop her, I had to let her know that her choice of words really offended me. I haven’t talked to her since. Let me re-phrase that, she has not talked to me. I am not sure if she is angry with me for disagreeing with her, for having a differing opinion, or for making it known. Whatever it is, it appears that our friendship wasn’t worth finding a way to accept our differences, and I really struggle with that.
I have thought about this a lot. I have thought about how differently we feel about some things and how similar we feel about others, and how it affects us personally when we do not agree. I am proud to have stood up and said something, I think it is important that we feel safe to be able to defend our beliefs and ask that they be respected, in a kind way of course, but I also think we need to learn when to stop the conversation before it turns into an argument that will not be productive for either of us. How can we find that balance as we precariously teeter on two different sides?
In patient care, this is something we have to practice often. We must keep our opinions to ourselves, and not let theirs affect us. In this work, we come across beliefs that can very strongly go against our own and we have to take pause and remember that this is not about us. It could be about politics, religion, life choices, or the color of someone’s skin that might elicit a response that could very easily make you bite your tongue. Finding a delicate way of changing the subject, without offending anyone or passing judgement, is not always easy but it makes things more comfortable for everyone involved when you do.
I tend to turn a deaf ear when someone says something that I take offense to, but what I have been working on most recently, is the response I give back when they ask me a question or expect a response about something they said. I refuse to argue with them, and I never try to redirect them towards my way of thinking. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinions and I do not verbally pass judgment. But when cornered, when almost forced to respond, I politely say, “I have some different opinions about that, but I respect yours”, and I change the subject. I have mastered the art of responding in such a way that I can appease them and not dismiss my own thoughts and feelings at the same time. I really do try to be considerate in these moments, but it isn’t always easy.
I had a patient who was in her 90’s, very old school and quite opinionated about a lot of things. She made some comments that really upset me. I shook it off and continued to sit at her bedside with her. She caught on, and she knew she had offended me. She kept pushing the subject, not so much because she wanted to hear my differing opinion, but because she wanted to understand why I took her opinions so personally. We ended up having a really great conversation about how open and accepting I am to the variety of different cultures, religions, traditions, and choices there are in our world. I explained what I see in my line of work and that at the end of the day, the differences we have make us unique and I like that because it constantly teaches me and opens my eyes as well as my heart. I told her that I don’t want to ever be the kind of person who sees anything only one way. She asked me, “am I that kind of person"? I responded, “Are you”? She looked at me with a funny expression and laughed a bit… “well honey, I don’t have a whole lot of time left, but for what is remaining I am really going to try not to be”. We had a good giggle after that.
Many times I witness the disconnect between family members, hearing arguments and differing of opinions that can sometimes escalate into harsh words and anger. In my opinion, it isn't about their words or what they might be thinking or feeling, but more importantly what is being heard by the person lying in the bed. While my role is to be present, to listen without trying to "fix," and to offer comfort and support, sometimes I find myself with boxing gloves on, climbing into the ring and breaking things up. I no longer hold back, but not in the way you might be thinking. I remind them that the person lying in that bed is dying and I personally think they can hear everything, so I ask, "are these the last words you want them to hear?" This thankfully calms the tension, and priorities are focused back on creating a more peaceful environment for all. I don't judge them for their relationship issues, I support them for how they are feeling. That is what matters most to me.
I know that there will always be someone who feels differently about things than I do, and sometimes the differences can be so strong that I will have a reaction, but it is internal. I am in no position to judge. I accept that we all feel strongly about certain things, and I think we should be allowed to. My rule of thumb is that you can support whatever and whomever y0u need to as long as you do not force something on me in an attempt to change me, or punish or insult me because I do not feel the same.
Especially in the end-of-life work that I do, I constantly remind myself that this is not about me, and if we do not agree, it is not personal... or at least I really try not to make it personal. And while I ask that people do not project their differences on me, I respectfully do the same in return, and I do not judge.
Human beings spend their entire lifetime trying to live life on their terms, having choices that differ from others. Many people spend an awful lot of time and energy arguing their choices, hoping to change someone's mind. I really think we should all just mind our own business. In death I see this too often, people projecting their thoughts and feelings about how someone else should die, or choose to die, or how they want to be cared for when they do.
I wish we could all just accept that we will not always believe in or support the same things, and that it is okay. This is what makes us so unique. And when it comes to life and to death, offer support, compassion and care without judgment. Who are we to judge anyway?
Photo credit: Thank you to Jennifer Grais for this wonderful photo.
Singer, Shamanic Healer, Author and my friend…