I closed the book and had an epiphany. I realized all the self-improvement books I was reading kept me in an endless cycle of anxiety because my self-improvement was creating an atmosphere of judging others instead of trying to find ways to connect.
Be the bigger person, make amends, apologize often, be the bigger person, show gratitude, and be the bigger person.
Why does “being the bigger person” often show up front and center on the self-improvement stage when it has an underlying message of “I’m better than you”?
I never understood this because striving to be better than someone in any context promotes this paradigm of me vs. you rather than connectedness.
I firmly believe that we are all connected and more similar than different, which is why much of my work centers around doing what’s uncomfortable, having difficult conversations, and giving grace to those around us. We have to stop judging others to accomplish connection.
In a conversation a long time ago, I remember my dad explaining the detriment of judging others. He said, “all be damned, Michele. Every single time I have looked at someone else and said, “I’d never do that…I look back, and I’ve done it…and worse.”
Humbling, no? And what a beautiful lesson in this realization.
When we start judging others, it’s a good indication that we’ve got some work to do. The same can be said about difficult situations, hurtful people, or life-altering events. This article by Shola Richards really drives home the idea that judging others reveals more about us than the person we are judging.
Often the work comes secondary to first having a good cry, feeling sorry for ourselves, blaming everyone else for our misery, and usually ends with something like, “I fucking hate people.”
But then I put my big girl panties on, pull my shit together, and get to work-not to be the bigger person but to be a better me. A me that’s not a victim. A me that takes responsibility instead of judging others. A me that feels the feelings and speaks the truth. A me that advocates for what I need.
This brings me to forgiveness and gratitude.
If you’ve read the story about my childhood, you already know that there was abuse, neglect, and dysfunction (as is common in many households). And while statistically speaking, the generational cycle of abuse usually trickles down the limbs of the family tree, I decided to change that cycle. And in doing so, most of my family has left me.
But my dad, who was once abusive, is the only family member I have who speaks to me regularly, remembers my birthdays, drives 10 hours to visit me, and has a relationship with his grandkids—the only one.
So while I could choose to be a victim and point out how everyone in my family hates me, says cruel and mean things to me and about me, and excludes me from family gatherings, instead, I have learned to look at my relationship with my dad and say “Holy shit. We have gone through some hard times together. We’ve both messed up, and we’ve come so far. And for that, I’m grateful.”
If I had strived to “be the bigger person” and continued judging others, my attitude would have been stuck in the idea of victimhood and judgment. Changing that perspective to “let’s find a way to connect” opened space for forgiveness and understanding on both sides, and this is an invaluable lesson (for both of us).
How often have we looked in on a situation and said, “I’d never do that…”?
Yeah, me too (especially when I was part of a strict religion). And yet, I could never figure out why I felt so disconnected and alone.
Now, I try my best to switch any kind of judgment to a statement of
“she’s a good person who________.”
For instance: When I begin to judge my mother, who hasn’t spoken to me in over a year, I change the judgment of “I would never do that to my daughter” to “she’s a good person who is struggling with her emotions.”
It’s hard sometimes when we feel hurt, but doing this has helped me turn a lot of pain into understanding. It keeps our humanity alive and helps us to stay objective about a situation rather than making it about us. And it opens space for grace and forgiveness.
This is how we grow in our relationships. We honor people by understanding that we all mess up, fall down, and have moments we are embarrassed or ashamed of, but underneath, we all want love and connection. And giving grace leaves space for relationships to improve.
This is the only way I could look past the pain from my childhood and still have a relationship with my dad that I am grateful for. And it makes the relationship more meaningful knowing we’ve been through a lot together.