Non-judgmental Attitudes

Be the Change You Want to See

At the close of a diversity class, I was taking during my coach training, I was angry, hurt, and disillusioned.  I was the first student to volunteer to answer the professor’s question: “What are your biases?”  I raised my hand and, with a twinkle in my heart, I admitted a bias I have: “I am biased toward people who are biased!” I answered the question with lightness and a laugh and heard my peers laugh in response.   I had no foreshadowing of how important this admission would later become.

I went on to disclose that my husband and I have five children, and two of them are gay.  As a result, our family has been hurt deeply by biases.  I shared that I have witnessed my children being discriminated against at work, in public, and even by well-meaning family members.  We have also heard distasteful jokes about gays and lesbians, and every time we hear these biases it still hurts very deeply. I thought by sharing this with the class, maybe some of my classmates would understand how hurtful bias can be.

What happened next, felt like a bolt of lightning through my heart.  One of the students in the class wanted to express his beliefs about sexual orientation.  He qualified his remarks by saying he thought he might be “pushing it” to state his opinion, but he felt he should.  He declared that this diversity class was not the place to be talking about sexual orientation because sexual orientation was a moral issue, not a diversity issue.  He went on to say that same-sex people should not be allowed to get married and they shouldn’t be having children. It was morally wrong.  He ended with: “We must draw the line somewhere on right and wrong.”

Through my many years of parenting gay children, I had heard this opinion expressed many times before.  But I don’t think I have ever taken it more personally. I was caught off guard, thinking a diversity class was a safe place to tell my peers about my children.  I could feel the anger surging through my body at his remarks.  I could sense all the stored up resentment from past instances coming to the surface.

I got off the call in the middle of the class, knowing that I should self-manage my anger and not release it directly at this ignorant classmate.  But I couldn’t self-manage enough to keep from expressing my anger to the professor.   I fired off an email to the professor seething with resentment that she did not call him out on his bias, thinking, ‘Wasn’t one of the objectives of the class to teach about biases?’ As the week progressed, my anger, bitterness, and resentment filled me with a heaviness that weighed me down. I replayed the scene over and over in my head. I just got madder and madder. I couldn’t seem to let it go or release it from my head or my heart.

As “luck” would have it, and so often happens at times like this, the minister’s message at our church that week was on forgiveness.  My first thoughts on the issue were that someone should ask me for forgiveness.  I didn’t expect the student to, but the professor, or even the graduate school, should call me and tell me how sorry they were that this was handled so poorly.

Well they, in fact, did.  I got a phone call with that exact message from the school.  ‘So there, good,’ I thought!  I should feel better now. But I didn’t. What was I to do to get to a peaceful place with this experience?  Was there something here that I was to learn?  Since this diversity class was a part of the training for me to become a better coach then I decided to ask myself:  ‘What would a good coach say to me?  How would a good coach help me?’

Then I asked myself one of those powerful questions that we, as coaches, use with our coaching clients:  “Jayne, is it actually possible to nurture hatred of anyone as part of a plan to make the world a better place?”

And just like the questions start to flow in a really good coaching call, I thought of the next powerful question to ask myself:  “What do you need to do to move out of this judgmental place where you are now stuck?”  As I turned my judging eye on myself, I became highly aware of the insidious thinking in which I was now drowning. How could I reverse this long-held habit of judging?  How would I ever get over the gap between hating and loving people who are so biased?

I began to realize that each judgment I made toward my peer affirmed certain negative thoughts and created more fear in my heart:  “My children and I are not safe and are at risk.”  “I am not safe to express myself.”   “People are out to get me and my children.”   And the worst one yet:  “I have no faith that it will ever get better.”

And just as I do with my clients, I turned to the help of some higher thinkers.  Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that when we hate someone we think is evil we become like them.  I needed to not judge my peer, or for that matter, myself either.  I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s reminders to breathe and smile in the face of adversity.  He encourages us in his book, Be Free Where You Are, to smile at ourselves and the negative energy, rather than try to fight it. And then, finally, I thought of Jesus’s teaching about loving your enemy.   I knew I had my work cut out for me!

This happened four years ago.  I am now able to receive people who are unloving to my children with a heart of love and kindness.  It has taken this long to be able to say this. And so I now stand free and clear knowing the world will judge me lightly as long as I am willing to be free of judgment myself.  I guess I should be the change I want to see.


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