You Are What You Think: Judge Not

What  you think is the true basis of your whole personality, it directly informs your feelings, words and actions.  In this series that  I’m calling “You Are What You Think”, I am going to explore why what you think about is so important and the causes and consequences of different thought habits.

Character

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this quote during the 19th century and it is as true today as it was then and for a very obvious reason.  What we think and how we view things are completely intertwined. A liar, for example, is unable to trust others because he always suspects others of being as deceitful as himself.  Ken Keyes put it another way during the middle of the 20th century…

Mirror

This is why it is so important to pay attention, not only to what you say about others and what you say about yourself, but to what you put into your brain and what you think about or how you process that stimulus.  If you continually let your baser impulses run wild, if you don’t repeatedly and thoughtfully pursue empathy and rationality, you really have no basis on which to judge others or the world in which we live.  You cannot say “I am a good person and that person is bad”, because your own perspective is biased.  Thoughtfulness or mindfulness in your approach to life is the only way to be sure that your perspective is as accurate as possible and when you view the world in this way, you are often less inclined to judge others, because of your increased awareness of what you do not know about that person’s feelings or motivations in acting the way they do. To round this quote session out, here is one from a favorite TV show of mine from the 21st century…

asshole

When you act or speak in ignorance of what another’s circumstances might be, you reveal that ignorance to the world around you.  Or to put it one last way, from an even older source than Emerson, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Another problem with spending so much thought energy on judging or disparaging a situation or another person is that you are wasting time and energy on a thought process that will ultimately leave you, in no better position than when you started out. A better use of your time might be to acknowledge the issue and then turn your thoughts away from the problem itself and who’s to blame and toward finding the best solution to the problem going forward.

Dissecting Understanding: Part I

elk

Understanding….a seemingly simple word, and yet it is one of the hardest virtues to master. What is understanding? What does it mean?

Yes, in school, it means that you get it. You understand that 2+2=4. You may not completely understand why….as one question my favorite philosophy teacher posed: “Do numbers truly exist? Is seven a real thing?” As to that question, I have no idea. I never understood questions like that, haha! But yes, in school, understanding means that you get it.

What about people? Can the same principal be applied to the understanding of people? How understanding are we towards our fellow man? What does understanding mean then? What does it mean to truly understand who, what, and why a person is the way that they are?

I think a lot of it is empathy, but to be able to empathize, you need to relate. There are way too many situations in the world for any one person to empathize with them all. In fact, that life sounds like it could be outrageously pleasant and horrendously terrifying at the same time. Therefore we cannot, or wouldn’t want to, possess the ability to completely empathize with every single person every time. So what do we do then? Do we pretend to understand? Do we brush them under the rug? Do we completely flip out on them because there is absolutely no way we could understand their actions, so therefore they are in the wrong?

What does it mean? Do we need to understand everyone? Would the world be a better place if we could?

The reason I ask is because I am one of those people who is almost crippled by the need for people to understand me. I already told you that I am a walking contradiction….and even this contributes to that image. I want to be viewed as a rebel who doesn’t care what the world thinks, and yet I am offended when you do think ill of me. I lay out all of my ‘ness’ to allow you the opportunity to pick the reasons as to why you could hate me, yet it really hurts my feelings when you do. People understanding me is very important to me.

I do not think I am special enough to believe I am the only one who feels as thus. I’m sure a lot of people do. Is it pride? Is it wrong?

All I can do is practice my ability to understand others. Fortunately for the world, unfortunately for me, I can empathize with most of the bad, so at least I have that. I haven’t had the worst life, by any means–my life is profoundly blessed! I had two amazing parents, fantastic friends, and I’ve always had a roof over my head and food in my belly, but I have been touched by a lot of darkness, so I get it, lbvs! One of the bad things about having blessings? They can be taken away from you. For example, I had the best mom EVER!! (No offense to any great mother out there!) And I had to watch my mother suffer and die–I heard the final breath that came out of her body. She was my bestest friend. It sucked. That is the word for it. That is not the only darkness I carry, but, for now, it is the worst.

What I need to work on is not being jealous of those with what I would call “silly” problems–because it is only silly to me! Not to them. I may wish I could have problems like that, but I don’t. And they weren’t the ones who caused mine, so it isn’t fair to hold it against them, is it? I am not going to give an example here, just in case that example happens to be the issue you are currently working through, haha! No judgement from me!

So what is understanding? How do we achieve it if we just don’t get it? If I cannot understand why you are feeling pain right now, does it lessen your pain? Do I need to understand? What is the difference between understanding and acceptance? Can I accept what I don’t understand?

Well…I think I found the direction for Part II, anyway. Understanding is very dear to me. In fact, for a high school project, we had to write a eulogy for our own tombstone. I do not remember exactly what I said, but I know, “She just wanted to be understood…” was in there somewhere! So we will revisit this topic. For now…

What does understanding mean to you?

Critical Thinking Vs. Being Critical

Thought Quote

I often worry that I am too ready to be critical of others. When asking myself why that may be, I rationalize that people are encouraged to think critically and that this is seen as a good thing. So if it is good to think critically, why do I feel so bad when I am critical? How do you think critically without being critical? I turned to the internet for some definitions and what I found was that thinking critically and being critical were not really related at all but in fact were completely opposite ideas.

The definition I found for critical was “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily” (dictionary.com), whereas for thinking critically I found this… “Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way… [People who think critically] are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked…   They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking.   They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.   They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.”~ Linda Elder, September, 2007 (found on criticalthinking.org).

So in essence being critical means judging someone else without putting much thought into it and thinking critically is all about being thoughtful, putting time and energy into examining the way that you think and whether or not your perspective of a given situation is accurate. Being critical is judging things outside yourself and thinking critically is examining a set of facts without prejudice and with the aim of finding the truth in your own mind.

My husband always says that I make everything a moral issue and I do. Why would I do any different? Why wouldn’t you think about what the right thing to do is and then act accordingly, instead of acting without thought and then rationalizing why it was the right thing to do, when in truth, it is merely what you wanted to do and whether it was right was never considered.

To answer the question that brought me here, the only way to avoid being critical, is to think critically. In order to think critically you must remove yourself from the question at hand and examine the issue rationally, with clarity and empathy. That last bit is the important part in my mind and the key to not being critical. If you truly strive to understand what might be motivating the other person’s behavior you might be more willing to give that person a break just the same as you might with your own behavior when, for example, you know you’ve had a headache all day and you snapped at someone for being too loud.

In my opinion the best way to avoid being critical of people, especially people you love, is to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the end the only thing you can really change about a situation is your attitude about it. Why not take a moment to examine your own mind and motivations critically and to decide if your criticisms might be better left unsaid.