A friend of mine who was moving far away gave a group of us each a bracelet before she left. It was made of beads rolled from recycled paper (if there's such thing as an extreme environmentalist, she qualifies), a kola nut to remind us of how nutty she is, and three letter beads: D, J, O. They stand for a phrase that came up in conversation one day that made us all laugh, because so many of us suffer from mouths that are quicker than our mental filters: Don't Judge Out loud.
Contrary to what my husband probably believes (hey out there, S.) I try hard not to judge people. Everyone comes to the table from where they are. But there are times when people could be sitting a little closer to the table, and the fact that they're not drives me positively batty. Maybe it's judgment, but it comes from a place of love. Or dreams of universal self-respect. Or something.
Last night we attended the birthday party of a friend turning 40. One of the women there was someone I'd met before, at some of her other parties; though I'd been turned off by what I found to be her overly-bubbly persona, I figured that if she were a good friend to my friend, then I couldn't not like her. After all, I've had my share of less-than-good friends, and I know how valuable the ones who give a shit really are.
The kids were downstairs with toys, movies, food, and a babysitter, thoughtfully enlisted by my friend's husband, allowing for the adults to mingle upstairs while maintaining on-call status in case of emergencies. About five minutes into the party, my friend was holding a cocktail, when her friend demanded to know why she was the only one holding a drink. She proceeded to continue to drink (though probably less than she was actually talking about drinking), and announce periodically how drunk she was. I found myself getting annoyed, despite my best intentions to behave myself. Why did this woman feel that she needed to be the center of attention? And why was she acting like one of my freshman college students?
One of my other friends, who happened to be there with me, reminded me gently that some people still enjoy that kind of life, and that she and I had crossed over the into "grouchy old woman" phase. Still, it was like watching a train wreck for me. I kept wanting to say "I feel uncomfortable with this situation," but not wanting to judge if that's really how she lets her hair down.
I found myself wishing for better for her. And then, today, feeling sorry for her (not that pity is much better), wondering if she has a drinking issue (now that I've seen her get shitfaced at three separate events, announcing her decline every time), or an eating issue, or a domestic unrest issue, or a self-esteem issue that somehow manifests itself in all or any of the above. As I was reading this opinion piece in the Times today, I wondering if perhaps "mommy" culture (which is, let's be honest here, a class-specific phenomenon) actually normalizes self-destructive behavior for women in ways that make it even less visible, or worse, culturally acceptable: "oh, she's just getting drunk because that's how those mommies need to let their hair down." And maybe that prohibition against judging prevents us from stepping in when there's really a problem (even if maybe there wasn't one here).
I'll try my best not to judge out loud, but I reserve the right to care.
Do you have to curb your judgments of others? Are there times when you've wanted to say something about behavior you've found worrisome, but stopped yourself from doing so in order to respect someone's freedom?