THE TREES ARE PEOPLE. With their own inscrutable “why.”

As I wrote in my last post, I recently came to terms with the (to me) dull, trudging work of gathering and analyzing data. I realized why, in order to get to the dazzling and fulfilling work of finding large trends and doing the big picture thinking, I need to first get mastery of details. The big picture is composed of details, the forest is the trees. There is exciting potential in the mundane, even if it sometimes makes my eyes cross.

It also made me realize something about how I analyze people (because we’re all doing it all the time!!). I like forming big pictures of other people, what I’m calling judgments. Not only is it enjoyable for me to feel like I’ve figured out something or someone, but big picture judgments are also comfortable and easy. Details and data, when they feel disconnected and not quite integrated into something holistic, are not comfortable and easy. They are unsettling. So with people I tend to go immediately from small details to big picture. I jump to creating an overarching story of a person when I only have a couple interactions with them, or only have a little bit of their story.

And frankly, I’m pretty good at doing this in an accurate way. I’m a self-diagnosed Highly-Sensitive Person, which means I’m constantly picking up on hundreds of little cues in a situation or about a person and, even though the content of those cues may remain unconscious, the feeling they produce that gives rise to my initial judgment, is often spot-on. I can “read” people really, really, really well. Not perfectly, but remarkably well. (#humblebrag or maybe just #brag #sorrynotsorry)

But what I can never ascertain is the why. I may read and judge that someone is unsafe, for example, and have a good sense of what kind of unsafe they are, but most of them time I don’t have nearly enough information to understand why they’re unsafe. Maybe they had a traumatic childhood, have never been able to heal, and are acting out of that deep wound. Maybe they recently suffered a period of loss or anxiety and just don’t have enough emotional bandwidth to consider others in the way they normally would. Maybe they have never had anyone hold them accountable so they never learned how to consider others before themselves.

The “why” is a HUGE part of the story of a person, and it’s the part I simply cannot and should not judge with my snap judgments. In fact, I don’t think that we can ever fully understand another person’s why, not matter how many interactions and how much time is in that relationship. There is simply too much depth and complexity to any individual, to the little moments that have built their internal and external lives, to the many emotions winding through every event, every interaction, bound to distinct words and phrases and tones of voice.

So I think what I’m getting at is that while I can still feel pretty confident (but not perfectly so) in trusting my my “what/who/how” judgments about people, I need to be incredibly resistant to forming “why” judgments about people’s harmful behavior. And if I make that choice to consistently withhold my judgments about the “why”, that means I leave myself more open to having compassion for others. If I don’t know why someone is acting a certain harmful way, isn’t it better to assume they deserve my compassion? After all, aren’t we all hurting and wounded in our own ways? This may not change the boundaries I draw around myself with regards to that person (they’re still unsafe, after all), but in withholding judgment about the “why”, those boundaries can be formed more with a mixture of compassion and conviction, rather than just conviction. And that judgment space gives others the actual relationship space to change, to show me more of who they actually are, and to be the dynamic, healing, wounded, passionate, beautiful people they are.

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