Compassion Part 2: Looking Beneath the “Book Cover”

In a previous post, “Compassion: A (Better) Definition,” I talked about having compassion for people we judge to be “acting out” and behaving badly. I suggested their actions may be due to some underlying wound and pain. In fact, it’s possible that the greater the acting out, the deeper the wound. But it brings to mind that saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover”:

One should not form an opinion on someone or something based purely on what is seen on the surface, because after taking a deeper look, the person or thing may be very different than what was expected.1

Using the book cover concept, let’s explore the act of judging others in general . . .

I remember many years ago at a work meeting, a colleague (“John”) exploded in anger in the middle of the discussion, and stormed out. Another colleague (“Sara”) whispered to me, “What an ass.” I whispered back, “He’s upset. He had to put his wife into Hospice today for Alzheimer’s.”

I also remember that when I was younger, I would disparage “old people”: why do old people move/speak/drive so slowly? Why do older women wear ugly “old woman” shoes? Well now, with respect to so-called old people, “I are one.” Now I know the possible underlying reasons: physically, often everything hurts, and comfort (like practical shoes) outweighs style; eyes and brain cells are fatigued after decades of service; and that cloak of feeling immortal that surrounds younger people begins to slip off one’s shoulders. So yes, I and other “old people” often move, speak, and maybe drive slowly—and wear comfy shoes and clothes—for a reason.

We’re all guilty of judging others at one time or another. Sometimes when I hear myself think or say something judgmental, I immediately wonder, “Where did THAT come from?”

So why do we do this—judge the “other”? I think there are a lot of possible reasons, for example:

  • It could be cultural or societal. Sociologist Brene Brown posits that we live in a “shame-based culture.” So maybe we judge others harshly because of our own shame or insecurity based on our culture’s (artificial and arbitrary?!) norms and standards. Maybe it makes us feel better to pump ourselves up by putting other people down?
  • It could be a matter of “nature vs. nurture,” rooted in our families and childhood. For example, I may have inherited a “judgmental gene”—my maternal grandparents lived with us during my early childhood and, although I don’t remember them, my older brother says Grandmom was extremely judgmental. But also, at the very least, as children we’re all exposed to the judgements voiced by parents, and socialization through extended family, religion, school, and even TV shows and commercials.
  • It could be an exaggerated response of the primitive part of our brain that’s always alert for potential threats—assessing everything and everyone around us.
  • It could be as simple as not allowing ourselves (or being unable) to “walk in another’s shoes.”

Whatever judgements we make and why, I think it impedes us on our Path to Oneness by generating that negative energy I often urge against. Regardless of shame, a “judgmental gene,” socialization, an overactive primitive brain, or a lack of empathy, I think we always have a choice of how we respond. Instead of criticizing what the “book cover” looks like, we can instead, look beneath the cover and realize there’s a reason for what we’re criticizing, and feel compassion for the target of our judgement. As I’ve said before:

At any given moment, we are all doing the best we can, given who we are and what we know at that moment.

If we’re all One—but each with our particular strengths and challenges, wounds and soul learning on our Path—then to judge others (or ourselves) is a useless, irrelevant action. So let’s begin to stop making judgements . . .

Observe when you start to judge another person or group, either in your thoughts or verbally.
And just STOP. To paraphrase that well-worn directive: “Just [DON’T] do it!”
Instead, say a little prayer or surround them (and yourself) in Light with the intention that special Grace or healing energies will heal what needs to be healed all around.

Maybe next time don’t be so quick to “judge a book by its cover.” Give the other someone (or someones) the benefit of the doubt. Remember my “better” definition of compassion:

understanding and relating to another’s misfortunes and suffering, and feeling sincere concern for their well being and welfare

And have some compassion for yourself, too.

Lastly, if you find yourself judging somebody (or yourself) based on cultural “norms and standards,” remember one of the songs by our musician and songwriter friend Bernice Lewis2:

Normal’s just a setting on the washing machine.


1 KYPhrase (Know Your Phrase) website

2 Bernice Lewis website

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