Traveling to a conference, I struck up a conversation with the man next to me, who shared that at 47 years old, he had never married. He recalled Bill Maher’s remark that if a man hasn’t been married by his mid 40’s, he either doesn’t like women enough or likes them too much. He laughed and conceded that he definitely liked women too much to settle down with just one, although many people had tried to convince him to marry. In his experience, people frequently tried to make him wrong by insisting he live his life as they do. What’s important, he stated, is to know yourself and live according to your values and beliefs. “It’s what I call inner game,” he said.
Later in the trip, I passed through Philadelphia, where my cab ride was long because of the Pope’s visit. The radio was on and the commentator discussed Francis’ emphasis on non-judgmentalism, asking, “Why should we try to make ourselves feel better by criticizing someone else?”
It reminded me of my own judgmental reaction to someone at the conference I attended. Her approach to marketing seemed boastful and she appeared both pretentious and insecure. I found myself feeling better in comparison. As I reconsidered this, I realized that my marketing is founded on my values of honesty and integrity; I wouldn’t be comfortable promising something that might not happen. By firming up my inner game I felt better about my approach and could let this other person have hers.
Then I recalled the part of our unconscious called the shadow – the “long bag we drag behind us” where Robert Bly says we put those parts of ourselves that our parents, teachers, society or we find unacceptable. I realized that I was taught to be modest but confident, so I keep those parts of myself that at times feel pretentious or insecure hidden in my own bag. I drag them behind me but don’t often acknowledge they are there. The truth is they manage to find a way into my life anyway, as they did in this projection.
A more effective strategy is to feel compassion for those parts of our selves. Since pretention is often a defense against insecurity, I imagined the child in both me and this other person who had felt unsure of herself but got the message this was weak or unseemly. Failure, or anything less than perfection was not to be tolerated, so our insecurity was driven into our ever-enlarging bag. As I held that sense of compassion, I could feel the judgment melt. She and I were not that very different after all.
It’s a constant effort to recognize our judgments and find their origins in the rejected parts of ourselves we keep in the bags we drag behind us. But by holding to our values and acknowledging our shadow with compassion, our life becomes less encumbered and more authentic. It’s a more joyful way to live and allows us to bring more of who we truly are to the world and those we care about.