Positive Territory

I watch online news video as people morph into the emotional equivalent of dried leather; tough, hard, inflexible, uncaring, bitter, cold-blooded, and callously inhumane. These people occupy philosophical space on the far ends of both sides of neutral—and every inch in between. Their political affiliation is irrelevant; they are dispassionately certain of their heartless positions that “the other side” is dangerous and should be eliminated by any means necessary. Any. Means. Necessary. And, while witnessing these transformations before my eyes on the video screen is frightening and repulsive, an even more upsetting scene takes place when I see the metamorphosis occur, with lightning speed, in my mirror. I imitate that repugnant conversion from decent to abhorrent. I feel the supple malleability of my own ideas and opinions—perspectives shaped by exposure to facts— harden into intractable judgments.

When I am sharply judgmental of any other person, it’s because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don’t want to acknowledge.

~ Gabor Maté ~

The facts do not change. My willingness to change with them ceases. Like the monsters I view on the television and computer screen, I allow my opinions to harden into immutable beliefs without the benefit of exposure to facts. And I find that reality both horrible and unstoppable. I hate that people make up their minds without the benefit of information that supports their positions; I especially hate that I can be, and too often am, one of them. Even when I recognize myself in videos and in the mirror, I loathe the fact that I seem unwilling to stop taking hardened positions without the benefit of logic or compassion or even accepting simple facts.

But there’s a silver lining to this recognition and to the embarrassed realization that I have become what I abhor. We can change only that which we know needs adjusting. We can modify only those behaviors and attitudes we recognize need to be changed. So, the fact that I am conscious that I am transforming into dried leather may be enough to prompt me to try to reverse the process. That, I suspect, is long and unpleasant. But, at least it is preferable to becoming the monster I hate. We’ll see.

I thought my critical thinking and my willingness to listen to and evaluate “other” positions was enough to keep me open-minded and unbiased. Not so. Without constant reminders to be impartial and tolerant and willing to truly hear every side to an issue, one can become complacent of one’s rectitude. That’s what I’ve allowed to happen. I have stopped listening to and trying to truly understand positions that differ from mine. That’s a bad habit and one that is not easy to break. But break it I shall. One way or another.


It is easy to be too easy on a person. It is just as easy to be too hard on a person. It is hard to identify that desirable sweet spot, that optimal place at which appreciation for trying is offset by just the right amount of disappointment in failure. Once identified, though, it is just as hard to act accordingly. My tendency, when viewing the statements or actions of another person, is to be too judgmental; too hard on a person. My tendency, when it’s me I’m assessing, is to be a little too easy on myself. I give myself the benefit of the doubt far more often than I should. But when I decide I’ve done enough of that, I tend to go overboard, just like I do when assessing others. There’s not enough appreciation for trying in either case. Yet another change I need to make in the pursuit of, not perfection but, adequacy.

When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.

~ Earl Nightingale ~


If what I have written thus far this morning does not make it clear enough, I am in a pensive mood. I am in the mood to examine myself and my motives, without judgment by myself or by others, just to better understand why I am who I am. And, of course, I always wonder who I am, deep at my core. I doubt I’ll ever understand who I would be in the absence of nearly seven decades of external influences that modify my thoughts and behaviors; but I wish I could understand that person. I wish I could know who I would have been without all the modifiers so I could know whether I would like that person or not. And, of course, that wish transfers to everyone I know. If I knew them better, would I have as much admiration for them as I do? Or would I allow my unpleasant self to judge them negatively, even with the realization that their imperfections might have arisen from experiences over which they had no control? It’s a complicated web. Way too complicated to think I will ever find a way through it. It’s like the massive spider web outside my front door, by the garage; big and unwieldy and almost impossible to see until it wraps itself in my hair and face.


Sometime today, I will make meal plans for this week and I will arrange to get groceries to let me execute the plans. That will give me a sense of accomplishment I might not get from anything else I do today. I need something to bring me into positive territory.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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