We Have No Idea What Others Are Going Through
I used be very judgmental until an encounter opened my eyes and radically changed my perspective.
A friend and I are working on a project together and we asked a third person to participate. "I'm completely overwhelmed with the work I'm doing on the PTA luncheon," she said, "but I'd be glad to help when it's over."
I thought that was a gracious and reasonable reply. In fact I didn't even think it was necessary to include an offer of future assistance. But my friend felt otherwise.
"Some people are so limited and short-sighted," she fumed. "Can't she see that both projects need her help? She's got time to do both!"
My friend's frustration is perhaps not only directed at the third party in question but a cumulative result of always having to step up to the plate because so many others don't. I get it. I really do.
And perhaps it also demonstrates not only a certain judgmental quality but a lack of compassion and understanding. I know because that was once me. Until I had an experience that opened my eyes and radically changed my perspective.
In our early years in Los Angeles, our chesed committee (the group of women who made meals when someone gave birth, moved or was, God forbid, sitting shiva) was very small. A lot of the responsibility (burden? pleasure?) fell on me. I honestly didn't mind but I was frequently expecting and nauseated and, like my friend above, wanted a few other women to step up to the plate.
There was one woman in particular I had in mind. She hadn't yet started her family and seemed to have way fewer responsibilities but she always said no. I began to get really frustrated with her, annoyed that she would never help out. Finally, after literally years of this, I had had enough and I confronted her. I managed to control my anger and inquire in a gentler tone than evidenced here why she continually refused to participate.
A long story of a battle with depression poured out of her. Other than her husband parents, no one knew of her sufferings, of her struggles just to get out of bed every day, of her difficulties in managing her home and her complete inability to do anything beyond that.
I was shocked and chastened. And I learned some valuable lessons. It reinforced the mitzvah of judging favorably. It reminded me that I really don't know what goes on behind the scenes in anyone's life and it highlighted an idea I had recently understood: that not only are talents and skills not distributed evenly across the board, neither is emotional health, physical energy, drive or motivation. Just because I always felt compelled to push myself (compelled being the operative word here; who knows what lies behind that?) didn’t mean she did. Just because I had an extra energy didn’t mean she did. And I’m sure there were other areas where she was strong and I was weak and she could teach me a thing or two.
This idea is relevant in parenting as well. Some children are highly motivated and you can't stop them, and some aren’t and you can't get them started! Motivation, energy and ambition are innate and we each need to capitalize on what we've been given while recognizing that not everyone is the same.
If we have the energy and ability to take care of our families and give back to the community, we should just say "Thank you God" and not make any assumptions about anyone else.
Our accounting is solely related to if and how we are actualizing our individual and unique potential; it has nothing to do with anyone else.
I shared this experience with my friend who was quick - and eager - to change her tune. Now we just need to remember this idea every time that ugly judgmental self rears its head.