Part I in a three-part series
One of my favorite books of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. When I was growing up, I would read it every summer. As an adult, I read it to my kids. I’m thinking about the book now—specifically a famous reference Ms. Lee writes about when it comes to the danger of judgment.
In particular, the topic got me to thinking about when I’ve screwed up a good friendship, when I’ve felt screwed by others, and where I just dropped the ball. Interestingly, there is a thread of judgment weaving through this tapestry of experience. And it all starts with a biggie — judgment.
There’s nothing worse than applying one’s perspective of “right versus wrong” on another person’s life when it comes to ruining a friendship. That’s the whole idea of not knowing someone fully unless you’ve walked in their shoes, lived in their skin. To do that, figuratively, of course, requires one to suspend judgment and practice empathy—seeing from the eyes of the other, feeling from the heart of the other.
Easier said than done. Impossible to achieve if through the lens of judgment.
In his article Developing Empathy: Walking a mile in someone’s shoes, Steve Mueller writes that others perceive their reality through biases, values, and generalizations that influence their behavior. It’s this trio of personal “reality” that, when applied to the expected thoughts, words, and deeds of another, creates disappointment and a potentially harmful exchange of words between friends.
I recall in my early adult years I passed judgment on someone I considered a friend. I wrote a letter telling him of his egregious deeds and how unforgiving they were. Looking back from my 52-year-old perspective, that letter is one of my biggest regrets.
I realize now that I’m older and wiser, that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was in no position to judge my friend’s actions because I had no idea what it felt like to be him; I had no idea what led him to make the choices he made.
I certainly had no concept of empathy, for if I had, I would have kept my naive, overly-righteous opinions to myself. It’s no surprise that I never heard from him again. After all, who would want to be friends with such a judgmental, condescending, know-it-all?
How to Save Your Friendship from the Ruins of Judgment
The best friend is one where you can tell your truth to, without concealing who you really are, deep down. Having a friend who can suspend judgment of you is the truest friend of all—the one who can love you as you are for who you are. A best friend is one with whom you don’t have to hide or conceal any part of yourself out of fear of rejection.
A best friend feels comfortable — always and in all ways.
Want to save a friendship from potential ruin? Suspend judgment. Consider what is more important to you in the long run: your friendship or your opinion.
If you are struggling with the judgment of someone close to you, suspend your moral high ground. Try to imagine what it feels like to be the person you feel judgmental of. If you cannot understand how that feels, ask. Be open to receiving. Take what they tell you and honor it as their truth. Protect that truth with all that you are.
I wish I could go back to retract my harmful letter. The friendship was worth so much more than my ignorant opinion of my friend’s situation. The best thing I can do to honor that friendship of the past is to ensure that I never allow judgment to interfere and potentially ruin another one.
Sheila Callaham is a best-selling author and motivational coach. Next week in part II of the series, I’ll explain another moth hole in the tapestry of friendship, and how you can protect the threads from harm.