Some people do not budge when they hear others’ judgements about the weather, a restaurant, a band, other people… They withhold their own judgement until they genuinely experience the thing for them self and feel if they agree.
Others (moi) are highly affected by the words and opinions of others. Like a chameleon, upon hearing the opinion of someone else, I can feel it in my body. If someone is criticizing or gossiping about a person we both know, I am immediately poisoned against that person. And it is very difficult for me to un-hear those negative opinions and draw my own conclusions. So I have had to develop a specific practice to block that critical energy.
Most people seem to fall somewhere between these two poles, but in my experience, tend towards the latter. This is unfortunate.
I remember one time when I was hanging with a group of yoga teachers and I dabbed some Thieves essential oil on. It is a blend of clove, rosemary, cinnamon, lemon and eucalyptus. Another teacher was like “what is that? I love it! Can I have a drop?” Then yet another teacher said “oh I can’t stand Thieves, it smells like hippy soap.”
Immediately the yoga teacher who was naturally drawn to the smell withdrew and no longer wanted a drop. Her instinctual attraction to this totally magical essential oil blend was poisoned by the opinion of yoga teacher #3.
I had two reactions to this. First, I felt judged and put down by yoga teacher #3 – not fun. Second, I was saddened that yoga teacher #2 had the opportunity to enjoy Thieves snatched away so quickly after she was entranced by it. We were all suddenly transported to Bummer City because of yoga teacher #3’s stink-bomb of an opinion dropped into the space.
This happens often when discussing another person. Such as when a friend of mine, in talking about a mutual acquaintance that I barely knew, told me that this person was “cold and out of it.” As I trust this friend, I immediately formed a barrier against the third party person. It wasn’t until I chanced into the opportunity to share a meal with her that I realized that she was totally and completely awesome. Not at all “cold” or “out of it.”
In a sense, I could see how my friend might say that, since this woman was kind of withdrawn. But to me it felt more like she was contemplative and thoughtful. For months I had had negative thoughts about this person. I was holding a critical vibration towards her. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to find out how lovely she is and change my vibration.
Opinions are often just so cheap and stinky. They are a quick and easy way to make us feel like somebody. To block or criticize another person/song/movie/country/whatever is to bolster our sense of self. If we declare we don’t like it – we are declaring we are better than it. We are making ourself special. We are giving ourself a nice little spoonful of high fructose corn syrup. I know, because of course, I have done it countless times myself.
Although I will often nod along and sympathetically coo when a person is sharing a strong negative opinion, inside I am erecting a wall between myself and that person. I am putting an imaginary barrier up so that their opinion does not sink into my skin and poison me against whatever they are talking about.
Even if what they are criticizing is seemingly “evil”, it still doesn’t help me to collect and share in all of that negativity. Pouring my own negativity into the conversation stops me from being able to understand and integrate my insights around what exactly feels so “evil”. It retards my self-realization process.
On the flip side, I just love hanging with those who don’t drop criticism all over the place. I love it when people don’t let their stinky emotions fill up conversations. I love it when people immediately choose to examine their negative opinions as opposed to being swallowed up by them and off-gassing them to the world.
My dad was a criminal defense lawyer for many years, and he would treat and talk to “criminals” so beautifully. I once knew a young man who was 18, homeless, had gotten caught with drugs and was in trouble with the police. He had no access to legal advice so I called my dad and asked him to meet with him. My dad accepted, and this young man, with his ripped-up clothing and self-etched tattoos, went to my dad’s office to talk about what happened.
As I knew he would, my dad treated this young man with the same amount of respect as he would anyone of any background who walked in seeking legal advice, paid or unpaid. He heard the whole story without passing judgement. He listened impartially to best help this troubled young man who had been largely rejected by society.
The same amount of respect and compassion was in my father’s voice as we discussed the situation later – he didn’t sing a different tune when he was out of earshot of the young man. I trusted my dad to treat this young man respectfully, not because he was my friend, but because that’s who my dad is. Which might be the highest compliment I can pay my father.
I get that sometimes we all just need to let steam off, and that can be fun and hilarious when in good company. But I do think we could tidy up some of our communication here and there…
So my challenge to all of us (me included!), in this great marvelous evolution of our human race, is to not so quickly indulge in our negative opinions. Let’s try sitting with them, metabolizing them, examining what they say about us, and even sometimes reshaping them into a thoughtful exploration of the topic at hand…
Image: Dorian Kartalovski