Thursday, May 27, 2010

150. Inconsistency invites criticism

When people say, "Don't judge me," I wonder what they are really saying, or, I suppose more importantly, why they are saying it.

In the purest form, I suppose they are saying that you do not understand the extraneous circumstances for their actions. In other words, do not hold me accountable for my actions, or my hypocrisy, because I have a good excuse.

In a way, asking not to be judged is a defense mechanism. It is a process where the criticism is actually placed back on the judger. It is a process where rather than perhaps explaining one's actions, the judged replies that they are offended by the criticism--in other words, shame on you for holding me accountable. Thus rather than offering an excuse or explanation, the question is what gives someone the right to note the inconsistency . . . essentially saying, "I'm going to do whatever I want and it's none of your business to note otherwise."

What I think people are really saying is not "don't judge me," as so much as they are saying don't "criticize me." It's not the actual judging process that bothers people--it is the conclusions drawn. For example, do people complain when a judgment leads to a positive comment? If I said to someone "You are really doing great a thing volunteering at the food bank," would anyone ever respond, "Hey don't judge me!"?

Either way, and regardless as to why people ask not to be judged, it is a pointless request. In fact, I think the mere request only increases the judging.

The reality is that we are all "judged" (and we can debate what that really means) all the time whether we like it or not. We are judged by the way we look--whether we are in shape or overweight, or whether we have piercings or tattoos. We are judged by the kind of car we drive, the food we eat, the house we live in, the way we talk, our political affiliation and who are friends are. The list of things for which we are judged goes on for pages. It is pointless to attempt to live a "judged-free" life. It happens instantly, all the time, consciously or subconsciously.

And, whether we admit it or not, we all do our fair share of judging--that is, forming an opinion about people based on stereotypes, associations or previous knowledge about the individual. We do it quickly and often unfairly. Consider the differences in type of car and bumper sticker--the first a Toyota Prius, with "Obama" and "Coexist" bumper stickers on it, the second a Hummer with "gut buck" and "Honk for Jesus" bumper stickers. In just that description, and without even seeing the drivers, we've probably already formed an opinion regarding his or her values and morals.

I suppose as a columnist who focuses on social criticism, I do more than my fair share of judging. While I certainly have engaged in a life philosophy, the brunt of my criticism falls upon those who are "inconsistent" in their life philosophy. Individually, and in person, I think people are much more reasonable than their views--compromise is surprisingly easy at times. However, I think there is often a disconnect between people's life philosophy and the way they live their lives. In this way, I often have more respect for fanatics--those with whom I might disagree, but live in accordance with their beliefs. I have a much greater difficulty with those whose philosophy changes with their self-interest-people who do not stand for anything other than what benefits them the most. While we all stray from time to time, I believe in a "principled life."

I think living a principled life means never having to worry about "being judged." Criticism largely comes from inconsistency and hypocrisy. If one lives according to his or her principles, then there is a simple explanation--based on our personal values and morals, for which there should be no apology.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

149. Hope can't create miracles for us

As the Cleveland Browns participated in the NFL Draft, I recalled the power of hope. Hope not only gives us something to look forward to, a potential to rejoice in, but it also helps heal the current unpleasant situation. For Browns fans, the connection is obvious-the draft helps us put the past behind us. For Browns fans, it is a chance to look forward to something better, even if it is maybe a little unrealistic or exaggerated.

In the last election, hope was a powerful message-one that was central to President Obama's campaign. People were hurting-from the economy and jobs to the lack of healthcare and other social issues. Hope worked to relieve some of that pain, to bring passion to a depressed country . . . to bring the prospect of a better tomorrow. While we will debate the realization of that hope, its power as a political message is explicit. It is a pseudonym for change-for we do not want to change that which we are not hopeful to achieve.

However, there is more to the idea of hope-a pretentious side.

Hope can also be used as a measure of justification- ironically even delaying that which we are hopeful to achieve. When I was a child, my father, like most of us, was always either on a diet or ready to embark on one. Growing up, I cannot even count how many times we had that last unhealthy meal or made that last trip to the ice cream stand. Like nearly everyone trying to start a diet, there is that tendency to start a diet tomorrow, or on a Monday. Nobody ever starts a diet on a Friday night, right? Today, as an adult always on a diet or ready to embark on one, I can't help but laugh at myself each time I pledge to start my diet tomorrow. It's easy to do and I sound just like my dad.

Nevertheless, as much as there is hope that I will lose weight and look better, the crutch of the premise is that I am really looking to eat what I want today-without guilt. And not only can I eat guilt free, I can usually justify eating as much as I want. Hope allows me to shed that responsibility of eating healthy today; hope becomes that justification for doing the wrong thing-rather than doing that which will lead to the result that I actually seek.

We find this idea, not just in weight loss, but also in many endeavors of our lives. We use hope to start financial diets, or make commitments to our family. We may not always call it hope, most of the time it is a promise to ourselves or even a resolution. The idea that we will stop going out to dinner so often, stop smoking, quit drinking, or commit to spending more time with our family allows us to get through the day-and enjoy one last fling. It's a promise to ourselves that we hope to keep.

So whether it is a new quarterback, a new president or a new diet, hope is there to lead the way. It makes today more bearable as we look towards tomorrow. We all need hope from time to time. We just need to be careful not to make hope less likely or less available because of what we do today. We need to understand what hope is, for it is not capable of creating miracles-just believing something won't make it come true. Finally, we need to carefully consider the power of hope when we use it as justification to do what we want to today because each day we push into the future is one day less we'll have to enjoy the outcome.