One of the important life skills I think I’ve learned, by being a parent, is the ability to not pass judgment.  This is a skill? you ask (as you sometimes do.)  Try it some day.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it takes practice to get better.  Sounds like a skill to me!

As a young parent, I distinctly remembered and acutely felt the harsh judgment I used to render against what I saw as inept parenting.  In my younger, childless years, a poorly-behaved child or a harried parent would set off a virtual avalanche of I would nevers and My kids would never in my mind.

One day at a playground, several other mothers and I had a shamefaced discussion about it.  One of them said something that stuck with me:  “I wish I could go back and apologize to all those mothers!”

Why?  (My, aren’t you full of questions today!)  Because even though those moms never knew we were mentally criticizing them – at least not for sure, because who among us hasn’t felt, as their kid had a melt-down in the checkout line, the ire and judgment of those around us? – we’d now walked miles in those same shoes, and knew that we didn’t want to be judged; it was just wrong.  And since I try to live by the golden rule – do unto others, etc. – I try not to be judgmental in my own life.

Rude store clerk?  Maybe he had a bad day.  Crazy driver?  Maybe she’s late to pick up her child.  It certainly doesn’t hurt – nor does it cost anything – to give others the benefit of the doubt.

So I suprised myself, recently, when I found myself considering the actions of someone I care about.  In a difficult situation, this person made a decision that I did not agree with.  Strongly.  And I found myself thinking those fateful words:  “I would never…”

And then I stopped myself.  Because really, how do you know?  How can you be sure “you would never” unless you’ve been in the same situation?  The answer is, you can’t.  And that might gall some of you, who believe you know yourselves well enough to be able to predict what you’d do or how you’d react in any given circumstance.  Good for you!  You have the firmness of your convictions.

But know this:  the “you” who is passing judgment is not the same “you” who might some day find yourself in the situation you are judging.  Time will have passed.  Events – major and minor – will have unfolded that will have – subtly, or not-so-subtly – altered your perception.  Your stance.  Your judgment, if you will.  You will still be you.  Just different.  And in a new pair of shoes.

One more thing about judgment, before I hope down off my soapbox.  Judgment is divisive.  It says “Clearly, I am better than you.”  It does nothing to help, to empathize, to understand or to improve.  All it does is to pit you, across a vast and yawning chasm, against the person you judge.

What if we all stopped judging?  What if, the next time you are at the store near a child having a tantrum, you empathized with that mother?  Might you not try to distract the child, offer the mother a hand, or at the very least offer her an understanding and sympathetic smile?  It costs you nothing, but might be that tiny moment that helps that mom pull it together, and turns around her day.

So somebody made a decision I didn’t agree with.  I try to put myself in their shoes.  I may never understand, exactly, but I don’t need to understand to find the common ground of empathy.  And it’s only from a place of empathy that you can offer comfort, support, or encouragement.  Instead of stiff-arming people with judgment, fold them into the warm embrace of empathy.

Do unto others.