"What? Life is not all about me? Don't burst my bubble." Those were the days when I thought of no one but myself and tried to interpret how others felt about me. The flip side is that I felt I had a right to judge others, to approve them as worthy or not.
The Bible has this instructive passage about judging others: "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" (Rom. 14:13). Eugene Peterson's modern translation states: "Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is."
That passage makes me think about the difference between boulders and pebbles. A boulder is big, obvious, like an elephant in the room. It's clear that we shouldn't put a boulder in the way of other people that might cause them to fall, trick them or cause them to stumble, or say something that makes them feel discouraged or defeated. But a pebble is small, insignificant, easy to overlook. It doesn't seem capable of being an obstacle one might trip over or be injured by. Indulging in discussing some small issue about other people, however, may add to challenges they are facing that we don't even know about. Casual criticism may seem more like a pebble or a grain of sand than a boulder, but a little barbed comment or thought about some minor thing could result in the proverbial final straw.
I don't want to become a detective for what others are thinking or what they say, but I can learn to have good smoke detectors that start to beep when the clouds of judging another start to fill me with criticism. BEEP, BEEP turn off that stove, put out that fire that is applying the heat of criticism to yourself or others. BEEP, BEEP open those windows and that door to allow only the fresh air of loving patience and compassion to our brothers and sisters.
At first, it may be only an intellectual exercise of tossing out inward criticism and pulling in spiritual truths about other people. Tossing out, pulling in. Getting rid of smoke, letting in good air. It's not always the work of a moment.
I read an article that compared criticism to moving. The author pointed out that even if several families from the same block were moving on the same day, each one's move would be different. Some would have the kitchen all ready to go, but the living room would still need some work; others would have the bedrooms ready but not the kitchen, and so on. Most of us are trying to progress to become a better person, or, perhaps, move toward living a more spiritually-based life and good for you if you already have that kitchen packed and ready to go. It may just be the last room in the house that I feel ready to tackle, but I'll be happy starting with my basement. This illustration helps me get past judging someone else.
Mary Baker Eddy's writings often encourage me to examine my conversations and thoughts to bring them into alignment with a loving standard. The words she wrote in a poem called "Love" are set to music as a hymn that I've found helpful. In part, it describes the "arrow," that mental or verbal barb: "The arrow that doth wound the dove / Darts not from those who watch and love." The next verse speaks of the need to have a Christlike approach in our actions: "If thou the bending reed wouldst break / By thought or word unkind, / Pray that his spirit you partake, / Who loved and healed mankind ...." The final verse spurs me on to resist the temptation to be critical of myself or others. Mrs. Eddy places the ability to overcome this tendency in the hands of a greater authority than good intentions, good manners, or just human will to be better:
Thou to whose power our hope we give,
Free us from human strife.
Fed by Thy Love divine we live,
For Love alone is Life;
And life most sweet, as heart to heart
Speaks kindly when we meet and part.
Christian Science Hymnal