After missing a get-together with a few women, Olive told me I should be thankful. She explained that when Gwen, a new neighbor, wasn’t quoting the Bible, she finished other people’s sentences. “I couldn’t wait for it to end,”Olive confessed. Gwen didn’t sound like anyone I wanted to spend time with.
We are quick to form judgments of others. Knowing this about ourselves can change the human experience for the better.
Dodging Olive didn’t work out. More than ever, we are running into each other. I don’t let a waitress decide what to order. Why am I letting Olive’s opinions determine how I see Gwen?
All of us are conditioned, genetically and culturally, to think and behave in certain ways. Too often, we accept tales we’re told as the truth. Anything said often enough and long enough can twist opinion to supposed facts. What are your thoughts on the homeless? Bunch of alcoholics and druggies? Or do you look them in the eyes without judgment? David Freeman’s I Am Somebody exhibit captured faces we don’t want to look at, the people who sleep under freeway overpasses.
When we pronounce judgment on others, we ignore our deeply ingrained mind patterns. We sidestep the foul-smelling human carrying her worldly goods in a black plastic bag. Our thinking is the result of a lifetime of programming. When we label people with a false identity, it becomes their and our prison of ignorance.
It may be that Gwen brings her God into conversations and finishes other people’s sentences, but it’s not who she is at the core.
To know people takes time and a willingness to listen without our usual judgments. To understand another human being, their heart and soul, we don’t need to know “their story.” We confuse knowing “about” with knowing “within.” Knowing about relates to form. Knowing within is about the formless, our essence. Form operates through thought, the formless through quietness.
How easy it is to find fault in others and rationalize our behavior. We believe we have never made decisions that resulted in homelessness. If the other person’s ancestors and past were yours, and you shared the same degree of consciousness, you would be that person carrying a black plastic bag.
What Olive shared tells me nothing about Gwen and much about Olive’s culture and worldview.
Bonds between people take place in the sound of silence. The brief gaps in conversation are pregnant with opportunities to connect at a deeper level. When we pay attention to these moments, it moves us closer than words can bring us.
A few women agreed to spend a morning a month with me picking up litter at the beach. Instead of constant chatter, we picked trash in silence for an hour then drove to a coffee shop for an hour of companionship. The quality of our conversations was high tide, fuller and richer.
Mort Crim, a journalist and author, gave a talk at a local church. He talked about the moment when his belief system fractured. Instead of waiting to be drafted into the military, he signed up to join the Service. After growing up in an Evangelic bubble, in the Air Force he was surrounded by people of different colors, ethnic groups, and faiths. “Why should God consider my group better than theirs” he wondered. Instead of pursuing the ministry as planned, he spent his life finding the truth in his work as a journalist.
Some people can pinpoint a moment in their lives when they broke away from their group’s ideology and began to think for themselves. My moment was learning that my mother didn’t always tell the truth. It shattered my young world, and my questions began. My husband Tim’s unquestioned Catholic faith ended the day he skipped Sunday mass for a baseball game with the neighborhood boys. “I kept waiting for God to punish me. But nothing happened.” The grownups and the church had lied. What else was not true?
I learned that Gwen spent her career supporting girls’ education and has a fondness for animals.
The thinking aspect of the human mind is valuable and powerful. Our thirst for learning about the world (forms around us) is great. Think how often we reach for the phone to ask Siri to enlighten us. What’s the population of Peru? Who won the 1979 World Series?
To grow up, we must recognize our truths as viewpoints. How we judge another person’s behavior is just our interpretation. None of us know all the languages of the world. And we can’t understand other people’s experiences that made them who they are.
Gwen fell and has been hospitalized.
In 1970, a new immigrant to America, I’d befriended people known to the police. After a late shift at a restaurant, the police pulled me over and searched my car. Later, a letter instructed me to come to the police station for questioning. The detective showed me pictures of a young woman at a bank counter. Astonished, I blurted out, “She looks like me!” The detective asked questions, then commented how he’d always wanted to visit Iceland and so forth. If I’d been a black teenage mom, this scene might have had a different ending. My white privilege and a childhood of trust in my government afforded me the best possible outcome.
The one reality that holds for the human race is that we are all interconnected. Each of us are small aspects of universal consciousness (the formless) we call by many names, God, Source, Allah, Abram, Buddha, etc. Our opinions are not truths, and our viewpoints are learned. An educated person is not the same as an aware spirit. Insight from self-exploration brings forth compassion and kindness, humans’ greatest potential for a better world.
Perhaps I will never get to know Gwen. But I can make an effort to connect with others without mind-made barriers and blinders. It’s in openness that we are joined together as one awareness, one consciousness.