Saturday, January 5, 2013

Judgmental People

"How was your Christmas?" the guy working at the fish counter at my local grocery store asked.

"It was a good was yours?" I responded, moving my cart as my toddler tried to smack his slobbery hands on the display window.

"Oh actually, I celebrate Hanukkah.  My family is Jewish," he volunteered.

And from there, we somehow chatted our way into the story of his first Christmas experience--last year, with his girlfriend's extremely Christian family.  "We just sat around singing songs about Baby Jesus," he said incredulously, "and anytime I made a joke to lighten the mood, I could tell it offended them, especially her aunt."

"That is soooo awkward and no fun at all!" I said, secretly wondering how similar my past self was to his girlfriend's aunt.  "What did your girlfriend think of the whole situation?"

"Well, that's the problem; she's not religious anymore herself, but she didn't feel comfortable with my joking around and being honest in front of her family.  We actually just broke up two months ago because we couldn't work that out.  She was so afraid of being judged."

And that is the legacy of growing up in religious fundamentalism--fear of being judged.  And for a person who was never given permission to be themselves, who was conditioned for their whole lives to conform to a very narrow standard in order to be loved, the experience of being judged even as an adult can often be devastating and crippling.  The disapproval of others, rather than being a blip on the radar, is instead a sign of a looming danger.  Because of its use as a control tactic in fundamentalist circles, it signals that a relationship is broken until the person conforms.

This fear of judgment is something that I personally still struggle with on occasion, although thankfully not as much as  before.  I often try to remind myself that there are many different approaches to life, and some people are better suited for one than other--it's ok if I'm doing things differently than others in my life, and it's ok if they are doing things differently than me.  And from there, I'm starting to take to heart that adults can disagree with each others' choices and yet still like each other.  Really, it's one of my favorite things about being outside the black-and-white worldview of fundamentalism.

However, around most religious friends and family, and any other person who has a particularly judgmental attitude, I still struggle.  Up until a few years ago, I often found myself playing the role of the Jewish guy's ex-girlfriend--keeping quiet, avoiding conflict by suppressing my true self, sacrificing my real opinions for the sake of the "relationship".  Yet these days, I have swung to the other extreme--a sort of "judgmental people can go f*ck themselves" attitude, because I don't want people like that in my life or my son's life.  I don't even want to be aware of their existence.

I don't think that either approach is the healthiest one for me.  But I do think that it might be necessary for people like me--those who grew up in the extremely judgmental fundamentalist culture--to experience both extremes in order to identify and settle in the more peaceful middle ground.  I hope that, step by step, I'll be able to move towards true self-confidence that is not unsettled even by the presence of judgmental people; I hope that I can completely be myself while also being tolerant of and kind to even the judgmental people who cross my path.