While I was sitting at the Give Jefferson fair to promote our Interfaith Group’s Welcoming/Warming Center last month, a passerby had a question for me: What were we going to do about all the …
While I was sitting at the Give Jefferson fair to promote our Interfaith Group’s Welcoming/Warming Center last month, a passerby had a question for me: What were we going to do about all the druggies?
The question caught me off guard. I can’t be sure what was in the mind of the questioner, but it was an intriguing first question. Did the questioner believe that most of our guests arrive high? How do we come to judgments about others? How does the term ‘druggie’ sum up a whole person?
Taking a position of judgment can be very comforting. Our assessments of circumstances, ourselves, and others create a map that locates us and helps us navigate life and society. We are wired to do this–it’s a neurological process, a survival mechanism. “This is good.” “This is bad.” “This is wrong.” “This is right.” These judgments provide a sense of control and safety, which our brains love. We all judge.
The problems with judging too soon or too easily multiply, however, when we judge people. One thing I have learned ever more deeply as a therapist working with people: nothing is ever as clear-cut as we first believe when faced with the nuances of human beings. Our quick and easy judgments fall apart once we take the time to explore a person’s complexities.
We love our easy quick judgments. They keep everyone in their place, including ourselves. When we find others who agree with our own perspectives? Nice…it makes us feels as if we’re not alone. When we slap a label on a person we meet? It fortifies our own sense of well-being and soothes our anxieties. But there’s a cost: the other person, in our eyes, tends to become that label or identity marker instead of a real person.
In judgment, we don’t deal with our fears, we avoid them. We can too easily contribute to the other person’s struggle and become complicit in their deterioration.
One antidote to judging too quickly or easily is simple curiosity. Curiosity can be scary because it means admitting we don’t know everything. The landscape around us becomes a little more foggy, and this tends to make our brains feel vulnerable. It’s a challenge to withhold judgment. But it’s also necessary and very rewarding when we get to know others as real individuals.
The approach at the Welcoming Center is to welcome everyone who walks through the door. Our goal is to be curious about how we can get to know and assist the persons who come to us. Addiction, poverty, homelessness–these realities have deep, complex roots in life and world. Individuals who struggle with these burdens bear a weight we cannot understand unless we are able to walk in their shoes.
A wonderful group of people gather at the Winter Welcoming Center. Those who need our services are simply in a place of need.
Do we have rules and boundaries? Do we make assessments every day? Absolutely. Rules, boundaries, and a certain level of expected behavior are necessary and healthy for safe human community.
Still, as we navigate our daily routines, can we challenge ourselves to stop labeling and stigmatizing others?
Can we make a point to become ambassadors of compassion and grace? The kind we would desire for ourselves if the tables were turned?
If you want to be a part of a great community that helps real people, come volunteer at the Winter Welcoming Center (you can access more information at fpcpt.org/welcomingcenter)
We can choose to be more curious about others and less judgmental, to be more open to our neighbor and less defensive. These choices can bring us together and help us begin to deal with our culture’s own addiction: fear.
We fight that addiction with compassion and understanding.
(Elisabeth Heiner has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, and practices as a mental health counselor associate at First Presbyterian Church Counseling Center and Discovery Behavioral Health in Port Townsend. She is also president of the non-profit Jefferson Interfaith Action Coalition. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)