Love is the absence of judgment

― 14th Dalai Lama

One of the most basic wishes we have as human beings is to be loved unconditionally. We want to be known, accepted, and affirmed.

Making this tricky is that, as human beings, our behavior is not necessarily always lovable.

Imperfect human beings can be hard to love perfectly. And imperfect human beings love imperfectly.

The goal then is simply to do the best that you can — to be conscious of when you’ve lapsed into a judgmental attitude, to make a commitment to change that attitude as soon as you become aware of it, to work at replacing judgment with acceptance.

Connie wanted Joey’s party to be perfect. She felt that four was when he’d really start appreciating a birthday party and she’d been planning it for months. The cake alone had gone through 12 sketches before she’d even bought ingredients. The planning had become so complex that it had started to resemble a military campaign more than a four year old’s party. Her second-in-command, her husband, Craig, was at this very moment at the party store picking up decorations. His list had been long and explicit, but he’d saluted (literally) and gone off with a smile to complete his mission.

Connie had just started mixing the food coloring for the icing for layer 2 of the cake when Craig arrived home. Bringing in the decorations required multiple trips out to the car. He’d brought in everything and spread it out in the living room for Connie’s inspection. He was feeling quite proud of himself and he was eager to receive Connie’s praise for his achievements. There were four things on Connie’s list that he’d been unable to find and he’d done what he thought was a very creative job of finding substitutes.

He presented himself to Connie, again saluted (with a grin), and invited her to come out and inspect his “spoils of war”. She laughed, wiped her hands on her apron, and followed him out to the living room.

She looked over every single item, comparing it to her master list. When she got to the four substitutions she stopped in her tracks. She looked at the items, looked at her list and confirmed that they were not what she’d specified, and looked at Craig. It only took her raising one eyebrow for him to interpret accurately her question.

“I know, but I couldn’t find the rest of the stuff in Spiderman, and I knew that you didn’t want me to come home without it, so I found Superman.” He was so clearly pleased with himself for what he thought was a clever solution.

Connie was horrified. How could Craig not know that Joey was a devoted Spiderman fan?! He’d lost interest in Superman a year ago. The whole theme of the party was Spiderman! She saw her perfect party plan starting to fall apart at the seams. All of her attention to the smallest detail, and Craig thought you could just plug in any old superhero. Her jaw clenched, her stomach knotted, and she found herself really angry at Craig for what he’d done. How could he be so clueless? How could he have let her down like this? Was he just too lazy or indifferent to have done it right?

She started to say something harsh and critical, but when she looked at Craig she stopped. He was so proud of what he’d done. He thought that he’d cleverly solved a problem, not created one. He was holding up a Superman centerpiece and reminiscing about how Joey had worn his red cape continuously for weeks except when Connie had insisted on washing it.

Connie remembered too. Suddenly she was aware of how warm and loving Craig looked and sounded when he talked about Joey.

She shook her head to clear it. She willfully reoriented her thinking to focus on what was good and kind about Craig and what he’d done. She wasn’t any happier about the Superman stuff; and she wasn’t happy that Craig didn’t get why it was wrong. But she was able to commit herself, at least for that moment, to replace a harsh judgment of Craig with an authentic appreciation of his intentions and a loving acceptance of the person that he was. Her jaw unclenched and her stomach unknotted. It was funny — she felt better when she let it go. She thanked Craig, gave him a hug, winced when she spotted the Superman banner, and reminded herself that good intentions really did matter.

Dr Benna Sherman

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Dr Benna Sherman

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