I read a piece a little while ago by a woman called Jai Stone. She was talking about the obesity epidemic in America and how she was part of it. She made a statement that really stayed with me. She said “you don’t know my journey and that makes you unqualified to counsel me”.
I knew that I wanted to explore it a bit further, but I didn’t know how I would be approaching it. Inspiration struck yesterday (in the nick of time) at a training workshop that I was co-facilitating. A couple of the delegates came up to me and suggested how my fellow facilitator and I might run the workshop better. I’m a big fan of feedback, but in this instance, it was feedback based on incomplete knowledge and therefore it wasn’t as helpful as they had intended it to be. And that leads me neatly to my first point:
When we don’t know someone’s journey, we tend to fill in the gaps using assumptions. And when we make assumptions, more often than not, it leads us down the path of criticism and judgement. For example, what goes through your mind, when you meet a single mother? Or hear that someone is HIV positive? Or that someone you don’t think that highly of has just got a promotion. Hands up, how many of us, would initially wonder if the single mum was just some careless young thing, who got pregnant and now plans to sponge off the State? But there could be several other explanations. She could be a widow, a rape victim, who couldn’t bring herself to terminate the pregnancy, a woman whose contraception failed or even a professional woman who got tired of waiting for Mr Right and decided to have a baby on her own. I’m not debating the morality of any of these scenarios, just using them to illustrate my point, about not knowing the full story and the danger of assumptions.
When we judge ourselves by our best intentions and others by their worst behaviour, that’s when we end up as the Mayor of Criticism Valley. When we evaluate other people based only on the part of the journey we see, we do them a huge disservice. People are more than just what we see, looking in from the outside. Even, if the single mum is a careless young thing, who plans to sponge of the State, she’s on a journey and we really have no idea how that journey’s going to end. What if she meets someone who sees her value and is prepared to invest in her and help her to turn her life around? How we start the journey is not nearly as important as how we end.
So what do we do, when we see someone’s journey and we’re tempted to rush in with our value judgements and criticism? I’d say, take a moment, pause and see if you can’t find out more of the story. Secondly, I’d say, come with the right tools. Criticism and judgement will not get you anywhere remotely helpful. How about coming with empathy and respect and a willingness to listen and really hear the truth of the situation?
I don’t know if you’re a person who’s made a few wrong turns and is struggling to get back on course or a person who is handing out criticism and judgement based on incomplete information. Either way, I’d say that the story isn’t over and tomorrow is a chance to do and be better, if you make up our mind to change.
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Until next week, go well.