When I think about heaven, hell and indifference in human relationships, judging seems like the opposite of the best of what we can be. Criticizing other people’s choices, behaviour and motives is like spaghetti sauce spilled on the white fabric of our mutual table cloth.
Call me Pollyanna, but I like to think our societal norm, for the most part, is based on taking care not to stain someone else’s reputation or how they are viewed. It does seem though, as if some people delight in making others look bad every chance they get – a short-cut to hell in enduring relationships. Even if judgers win, they lose credibility. Observers know any one of us may be their next victim.
As teenagers, parental judgment of our friends backfired. Instead of driving us away from the friend being criticized, it drove us away from our parents. People like to make up their own mind about who to affiliate with, even at an early age.
This seems especially obvious at election time. How heavenly would it be to know we were being urged to vote, based on the merits, platform, and suitability of a candidate to take office, rather than their ability to highlight the deficiencies and past errors of their opponents?
Indifference is a whole separate country. To me it is like choosing to reside in a mental Siberia. When people simply stop caring one way or the other, they stop looking for, or at, possibilities for relationship. Is this really living?
On a micro scale, I am clearly not cut out to be a politician. Too optimistic and thin skinned, according to Mom, and moms purport to know us best. I thrive on acceptance like a crocus opening in the warmth of sunshine. I close and whither in the frigid shadow of judgment in relationships and organizations. I run as fast and as far as I can (physically or emotionally) from folks whose prime focus is what’s wrong with others.
Heaven for me is acceptance and understanding. Hell is unrelenting criticism and judgment. Indifference is purgatory. Seeking the first, and avoiding the second two, I moved from a Midwest U.S. college town to Winnipeg when I met and was wooed by the most accepting, least judgmental man I’d ever met. He’s a Winnipeger, youngest of eleven children, raised in a farming village of immigrants near the U.S. border.
The prairies are unique in both physical and social landscape. There is wide-openness with room for all in both senses. If prairie people weren’t able to accept differences, with so many waves of immigrant settlers, this might be a war zone. In this place, with diverse cultures, customs, values and countless differences in life-style, the easiest thing in the world would be to slide into the sloppy affair of judging one another.
I recall a song sung by Kris Kristofferson from 1972, Jesus Was a Capricorn:
Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on,
Prove they can be better than at any time they please,
Someone doing something…decent folks can frown on,
If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me.
Freedom from judgment was a battle cry in the 1970’s. I was in my 20’s and it marked the way I, and many Baby Boomers still see the world we want to live in.
When I dream a bit, I imagine, like John Lennon did, back in the day, that there is something better, something more to strive for beyond our conditioning. In the musical South Pacific, these song lyrics (published in 1949) come to mind:
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
Ah, but we’ve come so far as a world since that song was making its point.
Or have we? I avoid CNN U.S. election coverage as much as I can. As Mom said, I am optimistic and thin-skinned, but not indifferent.
Here is what I think is at the foundation of what many people are seeking today in our pseudo-contact electronic world, where the global pendulum swings from peace building to fear and hatred, sometimes in the blink of an eye. From Jess Lair in his 1985 book, I Ain’t Much Baby, But’ I’m All I’ve Got:
A friend is someone whose face
Lights up when they see you.
They haven’t got plans
For your improvement.
They need you as much
As you need them.
You could save one another’s life.
And you do.
I discovered when I moved as a stranger to this strange land where I knew only one person, that heaven is one such friend, hell is none, and indifference can make you question whether you exist at all.
My First Nations friends use the inclusive term, “All my relations.” What if we took even small steps in the direction of friendship and understanding? What if we curtailed the impulse to judge the differences between us and the people we encounter close up or far away?
Especially with elections coming up, let’s try not to slop the spaghetti sauce in our shared space, and take care out there.
© Joanne Klassen
Winnipeg, Mb Canada
April 12, 2016