It’s been extremely fortuitous that yoga and writing fiction have come together for me because they have surprisingly similar lessons; especially practicing non-judgment.
I can be a bit stubborn so when I hear common themes coming from different sources, I get totally superstitious and somewhat scared that if I don’t listen I’m going to get walloped into a bigger lesson.
There’s a writing book I love, Breathing Life Into Your Characters where author and psychotherapist Rachel Ballon writes:
“As small children we learn to develop a facade or mask to protect us from hurt or getting in trouble. We learn how to behave by the rules and to harness emotions that might have caused us problems in the past. As adults, most of us have lost our connection to our core or real self, and many of us have become alienated from our inner world.
It’s true that many of us begin to suppress our true nature and conform to what best serves us, until we unfortunately lose who we really are.
…you can’t give to your character what you can’t give to yourself.”
Whoa! Hello insight into my soul!!! When I think about the verbal lashings that taught me how to fit in or behave as a kid, I distinctly remember the words “strange” or “weird” hurting the most.
And, in essence, what I took from that chapter of the book was, when creating a set of traits for a character to portray, as the author, I can’t sit here and determine what’s “weird” or “strange” because it would be unjustly altering the character’s authenticity.
As I took this realization into my everyday life, noticing how often I used “weird” or “strange” to describe people. I found the following:
Skinny, tooth-pick guy comes into yoga studio, places Lulu Lemon skidding towel down over the mat, pulls on neon Toe Sox, and proceeds to quickly touch on a series of poses in a cardiovascular, choppy way BEFORE our vinyasa class has even started. My immediate reaction, “that’s weird.”
The people who sing and dance on the subway with their headphones on, “Sooooo strange!”
A woman in my neighborhood, despite four seasons of weather changes, dresses as a punk-rock porcelain doll in loud striped shirts, short frilly skirts, dark tights, and Doc Martens while styling her bleached white hair in finger-waves and sharply lining her crimson lips in a Geisha-like purse, “total freak show!”
What I’m really doing are two things:
- Projecting myself onto these people. It’s weird and strange to me because I’m not them. I wouldn’t have any inclination to do what they’re doing. But that’s the point – that’s their reality, not mine!
- Being impatient by going with the first thing that comes to my mind. Instead, I should slow down, practice compassion, and try to imagine what this person’s backstory might be. What could have happened to them before this present moment?
- What if cardio-Toe Sox-guy couldn’t sleep the night before, had too much caffeine right before arriving, and doesn’t even realize what he’s doing? He might be exhausted into oblivion??
- What if these singers/dancers have a BIG audition and they have to memorize this piece in a short amount of time because they’ve been struggling for years and this is their one chance? They can’t blow it!
- What if punk-rock-Geisha girl grew up in a stifling, controlling household and as an adult this is the freedom she always dreamed of for herself?
When I imagine these things, I find myself rooting for these people, cheering them on instead of looking for them to conform to my normal.
Am I going to know any of this is true? No, but yet again…where has my belief and faith in people gone? Why am I not more patient and trusting to take a few minutes to play “what if” and find a thread of compassion? Judgements are just a poor excuse to speed along categorizing people and things.
Now I feel really bad about how unconscious I’ve been in using the words “weird” and “strange” to describe people because it tells them they’re abnormal. I’ve never enjoyed being called these names and why would anyone else? On a small scale, it’s a form of bullying – cognitive bullying!
And in actuality, it’s not true that their behavior is “wrong” or “bad.” No one is being harmed by their actions. They’re showing the beauty of their individuality and that should be celebrated. We’re humans, not a herd of uniform drones. How boring would that be?
I’m thankful I’ve become conscious of this and I’m going to stop using these words to describe people I don’t know.
At first I thought about banning these words from my vocabulary all together but I think when they’re used to describe a friend or someone we intimately know as acting a little off THEIR “normal,” that’s different because it could be a sign of concern.
In wanting to practice ahimsa (non-violence), that’s the difference, to me. Is the context of these words used in a hurtful way (judgement) or in a generous, caring way (concern)?
These are the questions I will further ask myself…