Empathize. Don’t Criticize.

The last years of my mom’s life she talked with me often about letting go of “harsh judgments” and the habit she claimed for herself of too often judging others. Even as her daughter, I can objectively say it was important that she learned to discern and be more gracious and kinder with herself as well. She was her harshest critic. Like mother, like daughter, I understood her tendency to be hard on herself. This is also why it was difficult for her when she was teased for the choices she made during her life, especially since many were made during times of loss, deep grief and economic fear. One of her criticisms of generational differences caused difficulty for her and her relationships in her later years. They kept her removed and at a distance from her artistic nature of appreciating differences and differing experiences. 

Although Mom broke through many barriers as a working woman who later owned and ran her own businesses, she was also lodged between two distinct generations. A middle child herself, she was born between the “greatest generation” and the “yuppies”, more commonly referred to as the “boomers”. Mom would share her opinions about her neighboring generational partners. She thought she was sandwiched between a group with courage and humility and another with too much arrogance and privilege. In her mind she would see the generation behind her including her own children as lacking appreciation or gratitude for the sacrifices made by others who came before us. She worried we would lose respect for elders, history and the values that they worked to maintain.

All of this actually made me more keenly aware of the generational rings on the tree of life. Even at a young age, my empathy listened. As a result, there is something I still love to imagine. I imagine the rings within trees as an analogy for our generational stories. Like musical themes illustrating the human experience. Seasonal factors create an ecosystem that impacts each tree as does current events for each generation. What’s going on within the tree given its unique traits, age, health status and the like, all define and combine with the present ecosystem to translate our own, unique needs and experiences.

Nature is a creative production whether we speak of trees or humanity. Just as the events that shape our humanity so do the years that cause much distress such as those filled with wars, famines, or pandemics. There is an impact on each generation whether it be trees or people. I often think of our music, poetry and literature as a demonstration and an expression of the ecosystem resonating within the rings of our humanity.

Ironically, even with all the judgmental thinking mom may express she could and would change her mind and reform her opinions about many things. And although she loved to share and be heard, and to be given respect for her opinions, she also would work hard to remain open to listen. I was fortunate to witness many occasions when she changed her perspective and her ability to reflect for greater insight and wisdom. She was also big on forgiveness and she would ask for it when it applied.

One of my cherished conversations with her in the last year of her life centered around a shift. It was something I introduced to transform harsh judgments whenever they came up. I pointed out that it would help to change this habit if we noticed and became more aware of the energy, attitude and tone that was created and transmitted especially around specific topics and people. I pointed out how important it was to watch for specific triggers too. As we talked about it or witnessed the energy of strong opinions we were both taken aback by how easily one could drop the empathy and slide into criticisms. How obvious it seemed when we realized that this habit of being critical can hinder or harm. Yet how freeing it was and is to own all the ways it may be polluting experiences, relationships, and opportunities to share love and respect. Each time we caught ourselves, we would giggle and say, “Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.” 

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Contact Beth Wellesley at beth@promotingbrilliance.com, 612.824.0454 (o) or 612.325.5104 (m).