Vow #1 “I vow to consistently seek to see your goodness and not allow judgment to cloud my vision”
A few weeks ago, my dear mother suddenly passed away. I emailed a friend the sudden news, saying that I could use a hug. His response was “you have my sympathy.” The response shocked and disappointed me. I felt like writing back something like “you cold jerk! What’s wrong with you?” Instead, I didn’t respond at all and held back on expressing my judgment. A few days later, my friend texted me, asking how I was. I responded: “I’m not doing well…I’m feeling sad and I’m surrounded by friends who are holding me tight.” He responded: “sounds good…” I’m noticing myself judge my friend as clueless, cold and unloving. I don’t say that to him, but I’m thinking it.
Then I think of the Zero Negativity Vow: how can I express myself authentically to my friend, and remain nonjudgmental? How can I seek his goodness and not allow my judgment of him to cloud my vision? I decided to become curious. I wrote an email to him:
“What does it take for someone whose friend’s mother has just died to give his friend a hug? It takes someone with a Heart at Peace; someone who can easily offer compassion and affection to a friend in need. When the Heart is at War, the natural impulse to reach out and be loving is stuck…”
My friend responded within a few hours: “I would like to give you a hug…when can I see you?”
Within a couple of days, I invited my friend to visit and he did give me my hug; it was a long and loving hug. It was a sweet visit. As he was leaving, I thanked him for taking the time to console me; with tears in his eyes, he said “I know it’s hard to lose someone close to you…I lost my mom too…” I acknowledged that I knew that, to which he responded “I can’t think about it…and it’s been several years.” My curiosity opened a doorway to understanding. I didn’t make my friend wrong for not rushing to my side earlier. I asked a question and allowed him to come to me when he was ready.
This is the season for saying “I DO!” Weekend after weekend, I am officiating at wedding ceremonies for couples who have found one another, are dedicated to one another, and have chosen to make the commitment to “love, honor, and respect” one another for the duration of their lives.
When I’m not officiating at weddings, I’m sitting in my office with couples who are in conflict: these are couples who are in the midst of dating and working things out for the next step in their relationship; or these are couples who have been together for many years and are deep into what I often call the “buildup, breakdown, breakthrough” cycle of close and intimate relationships.
What’s the rub? Negativity. Couples and families get into a rut: they begin to blame one another for perceived or real offenses, add to the list of complaints and criticisms of one another, and by the time I see couples and families, the heat in the relationships has reached the boiling point.
In close relationships, you might experience some negativity; you might even believe that it is normal and inevitable. Perhaps. When there is negativity – which seems to be pervasive – the question is “what’s the function of negativity?” For relationship experts like Harville Hendrix, the observation has been that negativity serves an important purpose: it helps a person to avoid intimacy, to avoid pain and to avoid feelings of disappointment. While it may not make any sense when you want to have a relationship that is loving, it actually makes sense on another level, if you are feeling anxious and want to find a way to back away from that anxiety.
How do any of us deal with this trap? It’s actually very simple: become curious. I you replace criticism with curiosity, you take everyone off the hook. By replacing criticism with curiosity, you are creating a non-judgmental environment.
What happens if you’re filled with rage? The natural tendency for your partner is to mirror the rage and become as angry as you are. Couples have to really learn that if one partner goes into his/her emotions, you need to make an effort to avoid doing the same thing. You may need to take a step back, take a walk, leave the room for a cooling-off period; but do not step into the same emotion. When you can choose to reflect and offer feedback, rather than duplicate the emotion of your partner who is filled with rage, you have just created a magical solution to defusing World War Three.
Whenever one person puts down another, there is a loss of equity – someone feels on top and someone else feels put down. Zero Negativity creates equality; no put-downs. Equality regulates anxiety…
Since we are in the midst of our Summer season, it is a season ripe for coupling, vacations, renewal and rejuvenation. As I’m meeting with couples for wedding ceremonies and for relationship renewals, I am encouraging each couple takes the “Zero Negativity Vow” which includes the intention of curiosity, rather than judgment and criticism.
In dedicating ourselves to Zero Negativity, I suggest thinking about the vows as having several faces. Let’s call these the “Many Faces of Zero Negativity Vows”.
I’ve been looking at the first face: Vow #1 is “I vow to consistently seek to see your goodness…” What is implied in this vow is the intention to avoid judgment, or to remain nonjudgmental. In making this vow, I also vow to not allow judgment to cloud my vision of your goodness. In judging someone, we are also making them wrong and ourselves right. It is that impulse that drives a need to “be right” which thinks in terms of someone having to win and someone else having to lose. It is an either/or way of seeing things, rather than both/and. It is a way of viewing the world and relationships from the perspective of one person being on top and another being on the bottom, rather than side by side.
When you seek always to understand, the goal is clarity not winning or losing. When you seek to see the goodness in others, you are already presuming the positive, not the negative. When you agree to seek the positive, you also agree to give the benefit of the doubt. It remains a choice. Judgment is not the same thing as preference. Judgment creates “right/wrong” dynamic in which someone has to win and someone has to lose. In a living relationship there is no place for win/lose. Loving relationships thrive in win/win. It doesn’t have to be about being right. It can be about being clear. It can be about agreeing to disagree.
Non-judgment is the cornerstone of loving.
I’m dedicated to you loving yourself and others. Loving is living…everything else is a distraction!