“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.” ~Wayne Dyer
I used to be someone who always gave my opinion, or confronted issues in relationships regardless of whether someone was in the mood for what I had to say.
I always brought up whatever was bothering me or said my opinion, perhaps in not so tactful ways. Needless to say, this led to a lot of emotional confrontations and blowouts with friends and family members, sometimes destroying important relationships.
I justified my actions by thinking that people deserved to hear the truth, no matter what.
Despite my strong opinions, loved ones still came to me for advice or help when they were in need. This might have been because I seemed like a well-grounded person with strong convictions—someone who knew what to do.
When giving my opinion or advice, I would always think to myself, “Well, they are coming to me for the truth, so they deserve to hear it no matter how bad it might sound.”
While I thought my advice came from a place of caring, it would take years before I realized how selfish and thoughtless I was being.
Sometimes my sister would talk to me about issues she had with friends, and I’d say, “Why don’t you just tell them what’s bothering you. Why not tell them the truth?”
It would frustrate me to see my sister upset with such friends, putting on a happy (or, what I thought was, fake) face, and going on with life.
What I had yet to realize was that by being patient and understanding with her friends, my sister was avoiding confrontations for situations she may eventually let go of with time and understanding.
My attitude only began to change after a series of big mistakes that I made. These painful events pushed me to take a big look within. I saw that I’d made a lot of judgments or criticisms of my loved ones for things they had done, when meanwhile, I had done the exact same things!
I thought about how I had moments when loved ones came to me in pain or in need of a friend, and instead of being there for them or listening, I would give my opinion, for better or worse—even if it made them feel worse off.
After I made my mistakes and sought advice from others, some of the things I heard really hurt me, and I would think to myself, “Wow, is that how I sounded?”
Around the same time I had these realizations, I was doing a lot of traveling, and meeting people from all walks of life. I really started to appreciate the beauty in people’s stories, including their blunders.
I saw how sometimes it brought them to where they were in their lives, or made them who they were, and it usually made them stronger.
On one of my travels I went on a cultural exchange with my university along with a group of students from the same area where I lived.
On this trip we had to open up to each other and tell our life stories. It was extremely difficult for me to put myself on the spot and open up about my life, especially for fear of judgment for some of my own mistakes.
However, in the end I realized that opening up to my group was not so different from my friends or family opening up to me in vulnerable moments. After telling my life story, I received so much love and support from my group. (And this support was coming from people I barely knew!)
I decided that from that day forward I wanted to share this love and support with anyone who had the courage to come to me, needing someone to listen and be there for them. I vowed that I would let go of my preconceived notions and opinions and just listen.
I think a part of my maturity and growth was realizing that real courage comes from anyone willing to open up about themselves, even if they are afraid of being judged.
Now when people come to me for help or advice, instead of condemning them for the things that I may not agree with or think are right, I take the time to just listen and allow them to go through what happened and how they feel about it.
I realize that when I show understanding, I get a bigger picture of what goes on in people’s lives—that some decisions are much more complicated than they seem.
Even though we may care deeply about a friend in a bad situation and all we want to do is tell them how to fix it, sometimes just by listening we are helping them in more ways than we know.
For example we can help a person get better clarity about what they want to do, or what feels right to them.
Also, what we may consider to be a mistake might actually turn out to be a blessing in the end.
Although I messed up some things in my life, if I never made mistakes, maybe I would not have put so much thought into my the fact that I had been judgmental of others who went through similar situations before me.
I may not have made this connection, which ultimately had a positive impact on my outlook, and hopefully on the people I care about.
Through these lessons, I learned how important it is to exercise patience when I am upset with someone. Now I make sure to spend time thinking through a situation for as long as I possibly can before I confront anyone and potentially create an even bigger problem.
Usually I end up realizing that I overreacted, or that I am really not as bothered about something I initially thought I was.
When I give myself time to think through things instead of speaking up impulsively, I have space to recognize what I truly value. Then I really know the things I can or cannot let go of before I speak up.
I think a large part of growth and maturity is realizing that everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. Although it might be easy to lose patience with others, or think what they are doing is wrong, we must keep in mind that we’re not in their place.
We may think someone’s actions are wrong at one point in our lives, but find ourselves acting the same way when put in a similar situation.
Keeping this lesson in mind, I always try to remember to be mindful when giving advice to another, especially when I have no idea of how I would act in that particular situation.
While I still see the importance in having opinions and feeling passionate about things, I see even more importance in questioning my beliefs, and watching them grow, expand, and change.
Whereas I used to believe in always speaking up or stating my opinion, I now see the healing power of being humble and really taking time to listen and carefully think things through.
Opinions can be valuable when they are put to good use—such as the opinion that we’d rather make our loved ones feel better, not worse.
Photo by David Noah 1