One Attribute Does Not a Person Make

I was booking down the sidewalks of New York when I passed a young guy with a pronounced limp.  My first thought was to contrast my long, distance-eating strides with his halting step and I felt for his diminished capacity.

But my second thought sent the first one packing.  Perhaps he would like to walk more smoothly but why on earth should one aspect of a person’s life define who they are in my thoughts?  To think that it does takes more away from a person than just their mobility. It says this one element is more important than their character, their sense of humor, the books they like, their favorite dishes and everything else that makes a person a person.

via Wyoming Jackrabbit, Creative Commons, Flickr.com

My next thought was that we might do this more often than we think, to ourselves as well as to others, which gets us to this week’s Thought Starter.  At work, where judging and being judged abounds, it doesn’t take much to find weakness or fault — often correctly so.  The issue is, how far do we take it?

Consider for a moment whether you have berated yourself for falling short in some area.  Let us agree that you should have done better and should try to do better the next time, or get out of doing that particular task.  More broadly though, have you allowed that self-criticism to range too far?  Have you applied it to more than just the single shortcoming that it is?  Did it become a criticism of yourself as a person?

You can ask these same questions relative to your assessment of others.  And then ask yourself, is this truly valid? How often do we take one bit of evidence and apply it with a broad brush?

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7 thoughts on “One Attribute Does Not a Person Make

  1. For the past month, I’ve really been questioning my use of “adjectives”….I’m noticing that they can be so limiting, situational, broad and relative…. I think when using them, I tend to negatve the complexity of traits in myself and others. I got into a bit of a petulant, multi-day discussion about adjectives with my friend (a monk) from “reflections” blog…he was staying here with us. He tried to be more reasonable and to moderate my perspective and made the point that in a “relative” sense and world, they can be functional, but to be careful non the less. I, however, continue to see them from the perspective you just wrote about…and I think that the more aware I am of when and how I use them…and understand them as limiting….the more freedom, acceptance and flexibility I will access.

  2. I have noticed that these questions are more easily asked regarding my observations of others. It takes a lot more time to consider them in relation to thoughts about myself.

  3. When I read this I had an immediate visceral reaction and it had to do with my judgement of others which then boomeranged back to self. I hate to admit this but I have a very difficult time with morbidly obese people for a variety of reasons. When someone has reached the point of
    morbid obesity they may have multiple health problems, heart conditions, diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer etc. They are a drain on the health care system and often make statements (I have heard them as I work in healthcare) that they cannot figure out how this could have happened to them, why am I so sick, what did I do to have this disease, etc. I want to scream at them-lose 150 pounds and watch your situation change!! As I write this I feel anger- anger at the person who finds themself obese, for whatever reason and anger at myself for making these judgements and becoming so unfeeling where this issue is concerned. It is an internal gut wrenching sensation, the anger at self and another. And then I feel ashamed . I know it is happening and I feel it.
    When the writer of this blog states “It says this one element is more important than their character, their sense of humor, the books they like, their favorite dishes and everything else that makes a person a person”, I have to say- that is what I do. I consider the person’s one aspect- they are obese- and forget the other qualities that make them human.

    • Wow! I may have to revise my previous reply to this blog.
      What a roller coaster ride I’ve just been on. I lost my breath as forty years of fear, anxiety and self-criticism about food, my body and obesity came flooding through me. That deluge was followed by defensiveness, anger and an overwhelming need to attack like a pit viper.
      And that’s when I sat down and brought some curiosity to my visceral reaction. After sitting for many minutes, my response boiled down to some questions. Moving beyond the societal issue of the obvious burden to the healthcare system to the personal, what is it about the obese body that provokes this reaction? What does all that human flesh reflect? When does one decide to withhold loving kindness from someone who is struggling?
      These are questions I ask myself…

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