Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Why can't they just...."

Comfortable life leads to insulated thinking?

I've been thinking about this particular post for at least a week now.  Since the title of this blog is "Say What You Need to Say", obviously I knew going into blogging that I would at some point be writing about topics that aren't...."easy".  This I think is one of those topics, and I hope that my thoughts here won't be misunderstood.

What I have found, throughout my adult life, is that having a comfortable life often leads those experiencing that comfortable life to be a bit more judgemental of others.  I have been at the receiving end of that judgement, and I have seen others be the recipients.  I am sure I  have fallen into this habit myself, of judging the decisions of others based on the idea that "oh, making that decision/life change was so easy for me, surely it is just as easy for that person."  I have even, sad to say, seen this insular, judgemental thinking happen even within the special-needs community.

I realize, humans are humans, and humans do indeed get impatient with those who seems to hunker down in their repeated bad decisions and wrong moves, and let the bad situations linger on and on.  From the outside of that situation, the solutions seem so easy, we think.  "If only that person would just do this or that, or say this, or eat this and not that, or do this exercise....yada yada yada".  Getting to those kinds of judgemental thoughts happens in an instant - and while my use of the word "judgemental" may seem harsh, those "if only" thoughts ARE a judgement on that other person's experience.  In thinking those "if only they would..." thoughts, we ARE saying in a way, that the experiences/life situations of that other person are not as hard/challenging/soul-searing as that person describes them.  We ARE making a judgement on their life -


I'll repeat, I have been on the receiving end of someone making a judgement about what I should do about a situation, based on their experiences in their own life of the solution to that problem being easy.  And for them, maybe the solution to that problem was easy....FOR THEM, and only because their particular, specific life circumstances made that particular lifestyle change a whole lot easier than it would be for me, here, within my own life circumstances. It is easy to fall into that trap, of solving everyone else's problems based on how easy it was for me to solve those same problems.

But, we just can't fall into that trap.  Here a hypothetical example, just to clarify: Perhaps I am financially comfortable (I'm not, but just for discussion), and thus the stress of wondering how B and I will pay even the most basic of bills like utilities and the mortgage is completely lifted off my shoulders.  This gives me ENORMOUS amounts of mental and emotional freedom, to think about and do other things.  Imagine also that because of this financial comfort I or my husband is able to be a stay-at-home parent, and thus to some extent my family has a better handle on eating healthy foods, getting lots of exercise, generally having a clean house etc.  Life in my house is thus relatively calm and peaceful, and our quality of life overall is pretty good.  We have a handle not only on present circumstances, but also can plan for and anticipate the future somewhat.  And then imagine that I, living this comfortable life, come into contact with another mom whose life is obviously more chaotic; perhaps she's a single parent working two jobs to support herself and two kids, her childrens' dad (or dads) are of no help, and things in her house are not exactly calm, or peaceful, and the quality of life is nowhere near that in my little world.  And then I find out that, because of the circumstances of her life, this mom feeds her kids fast food for dinner three times a week, and the kids generally eat the less-than-healthy school lunches.  And I, from my standpoint of an (in comparison) extremely comfortable, calm and peaceful life, start judging her choices, saying "oh my gosh, fast food three times a week??  Unhealthy school lunches?  Hours in front of the computer/tv all week long?  Oh my, what a horrible mother/parent/person!  Why can't she just....". 

WHOA, slow down.

I don't live her life.  I don't know what it looks like on a daily, minute-by-minute basis to be her or make the decisions she makes for herself and her family.  I should avoid, at all times, judging her or her life, because I don't know her.  Maybe, hopefully, she's doing the best she can with what she's got.  Maybe she's battled up from a much worse life situation to even get herself and her kids to where they are!  I am definitely NOT going to start preaching to her or others like her, saying that what she feeds her kids is deathly, what she lets them watch is poisoning their minds, what video games she lets them play will drive them to a life of crime, and what she lets them eat at school is the worst parenting decision she's ever made.  Maybe all those things are true, and being an intelligent adult I know I read articles on exactly those statistics.  BUT, coming from my relatively comfortable, not-nearly-as-problematic life, I have no business saying those things. Trying to help out in a tangible, non-judgemental way would be much, much more appreciated, probably, by that mom.  The problematic, stressful situations in that mom's life are caused by general societal conditions - the single-parenting, the cost-of-living which necessitates her working two jobs just to keep herself and her kids in a not-great apartment - and those are the concepts which need our attention and energy. 

Okay, that's my deep thoughts for today...apologies if it's not as clearly expressed as I would like, fighting a headache.



Rachel said...

It reminds me of a situation I was in the other day. I was waiting at the hospital for my weekly blood draw and there was a mom and baby about 2 years old waiting with me. The baby was screaming and the mom was handling him kind of roughly and clearly aggravated. I thought to myself "wow she does not deserve him, what a horrible mother" then I realized how judgmental I was being and thought "jeez, maybe she has been waiting all day in the hospital or the doctors office, maybe the baby is sick and has been crying all day non stop." just that thought alone cleared my judgmental mind and I then made the effort to grab the little one's attention and soon he was giggling at me. The mother looked at me clearly relieved and said thanks. I was really glad I thought twice.

JMB said...

Hi Rachel! I bet that mom was very grateful to have 5 minutes of peace from listening to her child cry!! You did a good thing that day, distracting that child and helping out. Yay!