Don’t judge me!

No one wants to be judged.  There are few absolute statements that are true, and that is one of them.  It is our nature to want to be seen and heard as people, not viewed through the lens of our mistakes or differences.  We all know mistakes and bad things are a part of the human experience.  There is a difference though between judging a person in a condemning way, and noticing a destructive behavior and mentioning it to that person. As much as we don’t like to be judged, people also don’t like seeing their loved ones commit to destructive behaviors.

Ever notice that those who complain about certain behaviors in others are often guilty of it themselves?  I can certainly raise my hand for that one.  After all, this post is directed at me as much as anyone.  The same thing applies to “Don’t judge me!” How many times have we spouted that or complained about judging someone when we are judging others in the same breath.

To compound this issue, constructive criticism of behavioral choices are often confused with judging.  You think I’m posting too much political stuff on social media? Judging. You think I shouldn’t smoke as I drive with my kids in the back seat of the car? Judging. You think I should let go of the past because I’m letting bitterness poison my life? Judging. None of these examples are truly judging if the other person said it in gentleness and kindness, with your best interest at heart. To judge someone is no calling out destructive, immature, or unbecoming behavior. Judging someone is to condemn them, to see them as defined by their behavior and that behavior makes them less than you are, or at worst worthy of Hell.

Anymore, it seems that people cannot take criticism without blowing it off as “you are just judging me!” Certainly, people can be judgmental over the examples I listed above, and context must always be considered. The issue I take is that most people are all too ready to assume intent or get defensive when we can all learn something. If a loved one mentions we should maybe try a different approach, it isn’t necessarily a judgement, it might just be what we need to hear.

Too Busy!

Anyone who is an adult knows that with maturity comes more responsibilities.  If you are a typical adult living on your own with a family you’re raising, this is particularly true.  On top of work, raising children, and maintaining a relationship adulthood affords far less spare time than when we were younger.  As a result, friendships fall apart and hobbies such as reading become neglected.  Are we really so busy?  If so, then is it necessary?

Western culture is notorious for cramming our lives with as much stuff and activities as possible.  Children and work are huge commitments that take up most of our daily hours.  Yet how much of this lack of time is due to having too many obligations instead of poor time management skills?  After all, if you really want to read or spend time with a person you would.  Sure, there are a plethora of good examples of things that could separate someone from a friend for a prolonged period or their reading hobby.

I have come across many people who say, “I would love to_____ but I just don’t have the time!” Here is my counter to that.  The things I really love to do I still manage to do.  Things I enjoy but aren’t as passionate about are the ones that get neglected due to “busyness.” Those we love and desire a real relationship with we reach out to even if we our personal lives have little room to work with.  As a writer, when I read the statistic that roughly 80% of Americans do not read, I cannot help but wonder if the excuse of busyness is the reason.  Then the next question that comes to mind is how can we writers come to terms with this and help American adults effectively rediscover the magic of reading?

Perhaps the answer lies in each and everyone of us contemplating what is our priorities in life.  If we enjoy watching television, we will watch it.  We all need to take an honest assessment of ourselves and discover our true priorities.  If there is someone you think of as your friend but haven’t called him/her for years perhaps deep down, you may love or respect them but they are not really as close to your heart as you believe.  The same goes for the more trivial things such as our hobbies.  The point is that we all, myself included, need to reassess ourselves sometimes.  If something needs to me more of a priority we need to make it so, otherwise we don’t care as much as we claim.

Honesty

How often do you hear people say the would prefer you be honest and tell them a problem to their face than talk to someone else about it?  Another scenario might be a friend or relative irritates you for awhile but you keep it to yourself, but once the truth comes out they react poorly while at the same time saying you should have said something sooner.  Perhaps another situation may be when a friend’s behavior is concerning and you bring it up right away because that friend has claimed for years they value honesty, but when you approach them they do not take it well.  You may employ every bit of tact and gentleness at your disposal, but still the friend blows up and hurls accusations at you.  Most people who are older than elementary age have experienced this.  People say they want honesty, but how many really do?

This blog is in no way justifying or advocating lying.  It is merely my unscientific observation that many times people cannot handle the level of honesty they ask for.  It is human nature to want to be liked and when we find out someone has an issue with us, even if it is valid, our natural instinct is to build up a defensive wall.  Ideally, by the time someone reaches adulthood, that person should be able to take constructive criticism without getting defensive and hurling accusations.  Unfortunately, this appears to be the exception, not the rule.

Does this mean we should shirk away from telling someone we have an issue?  Not at all.  It simply means we need to condition ourselves to care less what people think.  We should always show gentleness, kindness, and love to others.  However, if someone reacts poorly to the truth than it is their problem not yours.  A friend should listen, and if they do not calm down and try to see your point of view then that reflects more on them than you.  If your issue is untrue or based on an assumption then you should show maturity as well and admit it.  Ultimately, an issue never gets resolved if it isn’t discussed.

Now what does this have to do with writing?  Characterization and feedback are the two answers.  I will go into greater detail on that in the next post.

Assumptions

We are all guilty of it.  Most of the time we are unaware of the snap judgements we make about people and our settings.  While judgement has an often-negative connotation, most judgements are benign such as which clothes we wear, and the best way to start our day.  Others however, are more impactful and can deeply harm our relationships with others.  We all know assumptions, especially negative ones, are not healthy, yet we continue to make judgements based on nothing more than our presumptions.

One of the main themes in Crystal Moon is that we should always be careful what sort of conclusions we come to, especially in marriage.  It is a part of human nature to assume the worst, especially if there is an argument or a relationship hasn’t been going well.  Sometimes there are other factors such as a bad mood, alcohol, or simply an inability to empathize with another person.

Usually, the more negative assumptions we have about a person, the more wrong we are.  There are of course exceptions, toxic people do exist and they are more common than we would like to believe.  Everyone that has gone to school knows that first hand, and perhaps when we become adults we are on guard against such toxicity.  It is easier to assume the worst and be on the defensive then it is to be vulnerable, especially opening ourselves to someone who will betray that trust in the future.

Most of the time negative assumptions do nothing more than get us into trouble, especially if we lash out first before discussing them.  I have come to believe that people are more emotional than rational, especially when they are fired up.  When we are upset and believe another person has wronged us, in that moment we want to fight, and more importantly win.  This is the sort of mess the main characters find themselves in.  Both the husband and wife come to conclusions about one another, and instead of discussing their fears and concerns, the real issue at hand continues to spiral out of control.  When this happens in fiction it creates plot, but in real life it can cause irreparable damage.  When we are accused of doing or feeling something we aren’t guilty of, we feel angry, that there had been an injustice done upon us. May we learn from characters in fiction and be better than that, remembering how it feels to be on the receiving end of untrue assumptions.

Three Years Ago (Now four)

Note: This was published October 2016, but the lessons I learned are still very much relevant.  This is one of the most important blog posts I have ever written.  We can love someone while standing up for ourselves and putting up boundaries, including not being a part of that person’s life.  Toxic people exist, never be afraid to speak up.

Have you ever met someone who felt off, but you had no reason at that moment to feel that way?  One particular person I knew gave me that vibe, and for a few years, I honestly didn’t like them much.  It wasn’t until around 2011 that this person confessed something they had done that put them in a tight spot.  I felt as a Christian it was my duty to be there for this person and decided that I was being paranoid and judgmental, so I shoved my reservations to the side.

Over the next year and a half, we grew closer, spending a lot of time talking on Skype and the phone.  There were red flags that I ignored during our friendship.  If I had something to address with this person, they would blow it off, turn it around, and blame me.  This person, among many other bad signs, made grandiose claims of prophecy.  Around this time, the off feeling came back.  Well, if I was honest with myself, it never left, but the warnings in my soul became so strong I couldn’t ignore it.  For the sake of privacy, I won’t say too much more on the situation, but this person did inspire a character in one of my up-coming novels.

When I began talking to a 3rd party about my situation, things started to clear up.  I was making excuses for this person in my head, this person who was emotionally and mentally abusive and manipulative.  In June of 2013, I first brought up my concerns to this person, which neither one of us handled very well. I admit that.  I gave this person another chance but with strict boundaries in place.  Again, the blame was completely placed on me from this other person’s perspective.  I do not claim to be perfect, but I always tried to treat this person with respect.

The 3rd party I was talking to about this situation told me in October of that year that I needed to confront this friend and tell them my concerns.  The person I talked with said I needed to do it in order to grow.  I was terrified, but a couple weeks later I did it.  I wanted this conversation to just be over.  To make a very long and complicated situation more concise, this “friend” didn’t like what I had to say at all.  This person even tried to get my wife to side with them on the issue.  Perhaps I didn’t handle things 100 percent the way I should have, but I do know I was gentle.  Confronting someone with serious issues like this is neither easy to say or easy to hear.  After my wife and I tried everything, suggesting someone else help resolve this and trying to talk about it, this person shoved us away. We let them walk away and resolved to never allow their manipulation back into our lives.

The point of this story is not to shame the individual involved.  I have no idea where they are right now, if they have changed, or if they truly know if they changed.  What I do know is that if you have someone in your life that is manipulating and/or abusive, you do not have to stand for it.  Even if that is the only friend you have in the world, you do not need that toxicity in your life.  Turning away from that doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you smart.  Friendship should be mutual.  The second it isn’t, the moment there is an imbalance of power and benefit, it may be time to rethink it.

This crazy experience, which was filled with more drama than I could ever include was too rich of a resource not to use for a book.  I wrote in a secondary character who becomes friends with the protagonist who is based on my former friend.  Unfortunately, even in an urban fantasy setting, things that happened still had to tone down because, frankly, my readers would probably find it unbelievable.  As a writer, every experience is fair game.  Those experiences, whether they seem real or not, are what make stories relatable.  Even if it is incredibly painful like this experience was for me.  All of life is for us to use.

Note: I chose to use the words “them” and “they” because they are gender neutral and increases the privacy of the person I am referencing.