Recently I was feeling pretty disappointed in how judgmental adults can be to each other. You know, behavior like snickering, talking junk, rolling eyes at others as a way to show disapproval or disdain– being mean. What makes it worse is when the judgement is about how someone looks or some other aspect of their identity that won’t likely change (like being overweight or not having a perfect sense of rhythm).
Perhaps I’m becoming more jaded, but I am learning to accept this meanness as a normal part of life. I used to be more outraged about it. I had a hard time understanding how we human beings could be so cruel. Didn’t we all learn to “treat others as you would want to be treated”? Don’t we all know what it feels like to be excluded or mistreated? As adults, don’t we know better? Apparently not, but that’s not actually the point of this post…
How we respond to meanness is ultimately way more important than the meanness itself. I recently witnessed two powerful examples of this in action.
As you know, Zumba is currently all the rage in the fitness world. I know two women who were recently certified in Zumba and who experienced some harsh mean girl antics:
One friend approached a local gym about teaching a class and got the straight up, You? Teach? Here? Huh! looks from the mean girls working the desk. They did the snickering and rolling of the eyes and general lack of support on the day she auditioned at the gym to take over a class. It didn’t occur to me at first, but this meanness likely had to do with the fact that my friend is over-weight.
The second newly certified friend was asked to take over a class before she felt ready. The mean girls in this case were harsh in their critique. The music wasn’t good. The pace wasn’t right. Her moves didn’t have enough “flava”. They shared this within earshot and spread the word to their friends.
For these two friends, it was difficult to bear the ridicule. Aren’t we all here for the same reasons? Isn’t the point to have fun and exercise? The funny thing is, the loudest “haters” were certainly not willing to go up and teach a class themselves. But they sure were quick to judge (and be vocal about those judgments).
The message the mean girls were conveying was: “You’re not good enough. You don’t matter. You suck.” As you can imagine, this was tough for my friends to hear and likely triggered any insecurities they were already harboring about themselves. You know, the voice of the inner critic (gremlin, loyal soldier, judgmental parent) who creeps up behind you and whispers, “See, I told you shouldn’t have put yourself out there. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. Who do you think you are? It is better to stay safe and leave it to those who are better than you…”
These two women, although hurt by the mean-spirited critique, went on to pursue teaching positions elsewhere. And, guess what, they went on to find success at different venues. Now, you might be thinking: Is it as simple as ignoring the mean girls? Well, yes and no. Besides showing incredible courage in the face of derision these women demonstrated the following:
- Open-heartedness– They each approached their goals with sincerity and wholeheartedness. They inspire by sharing what they love. They exude a presence and joy when they dance.
- Vulnerability– They were each willing to take risks in face of ridicule. They knew they might be judged, might not be accepted, or might fail– and they did it anyway.
- Perseverance— When they did, in fact, get judged and fail in one respect they went on to other venues. They dusted themselves off and kept at it. They didn’t quit at the first signs of trouble.
- Receptivity— Although they ultimately ignored the mean girls, they were not closed to all critique. They accepted and incorporated constructive feedback about how they could improve.
I am so grateful to these women for the opportunity to witness and be inspired by their openheartedness, vulnerability, perseverance and receptivity. To see them go on to venues where they would not only be accepted, but celebrated for who they are…
I used to compulsively strive for perfection as a way to shield myself from ridicule. I have found freedom in my increasing cynicism. We can count on people judging us- that’s pretty much a given. The questions are:
- If you know you can (and will) be judged for just about anything, what value will you give those judgements?
- Will you let it stop you from living? Risking? Pursuing your passions?
- Will you let the judgements determine your truth?
How about we let the mean girls (and boys) keep doing what they’re doing? It is really about them, not us. Then we get back to busying ourselves with living lives full of meaning, purpose and passion.