“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” ~Jesse Jackson
Do you judge people? Criticize them? Are there people in your life who you belittle behind their backs or even silently to yourself? Is it hard for you to accept people for being different from you and love them regardless? Do you sometimes even blame these people for making you feel a certain negative way towards them?
Oddly enough, these questions remind me of my first day in college. I started the University of South Carolina in August of 2000, immediately after finishing high school in a small town outside the city. I was ready to meet new people and ready to make new friends. Looking back on the years that followed, however, I realize that I didn’t really know how to do that.
By my second day on campus, I managed to collect all the information necessary to begin finding these new people and making these new friends. All I needed to do was buy a few new sundresses, pair them with some cute heels, and show up on Sorority Row at 10 a.m. the following Saturday. It was my duty as a Southern Belle to pledge a reputable sorority and, darn it, I was going to rush around collecting the perfect outfits in anticipation of the perfect Rush.
Rush Week came and went and I ended up pledging Tri-Delta. The details of the week were a blur by the end of it, and they remain blurry today. What I do clearly remember, however, are the remaining Rush Weeks of my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I remember the selection process. I remember looking at photos of Rushees before meeting them and making comments about how they looked. I remember reading résumés and comparing their choices of extracurricular activities with what I thought were “cool” things to do. We spent hours upon hours criticizing these girls as if we were entitled to do so. As if we were so much more important. Why did we think those three Greek letters made us better than everyone else?
Looking back on all of this, I have but one conclusion. We did not yet possess the self-acceptance necessary to be accepting of others. I know for a fact that I did not. What is surprising to me, however, is that I was in a room with over one hundred sorority sisters who, in my opinion, did not either.
So I now wonder: why was this? Why did so many women ages 18-22 not yet possess enough self-acceptance to be all-accepting? We all came from different types of families with differing belief systems. Some of us may have been verbally abused, physically abused, or even sexually abused. Still others may have had a simply “normal” upbringing.
Though there were probably hundreds of differences in the ways that we were raised, there was, and still is, one commonality. Our society does not encourage acceptance. Instead, if often promotes its exact opposite: judgment and criticism.
We grow up observing other people as they play sports, star in movies, and appear in the last decade’s worth of “reality” television. We now spend hours each day peeking into the lives of other people by way of the internet and its various social platforms. And what do most of us do after watching all these people doing all these different things? We criticize them, put them down, and say things that not only hinder acceptance but diminish our own self-acceptance as well. We even support a multi-billion dollar celebrity sleaze industry that does nothing but pick people apart with bad journalism.
Since life on Sorority Row, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about self-worth, self-esteem, and self-love. I’ve learned that there is no way for me to love myself without loving the world around me, regardless of how conditioned I had become to being critical and judgmental. Why would anyone love and accept me unless I’m constantly willing to give them these things in return? If I don’t love and accept myself, then why should anyone else love and accept me either?
There is nothing powerful about being judgmental. Non-acceptance, critical judgment, and trash talk will no more bring joy into our lives than does the knife it sticks into the backs of others. All we are doing is mastering the art of hatred, which not only shows up in our relationships with loved ones, but also reflects back to us each time we look in the mirror. Self-love cannot exist without self-acceptance, and self-acceptance cannot thrive without being all-accepting.
Loving yourself begins with you. It isn’t up to anyone else to do it for you. By letting go of judgment, embracing compassion, and practicing equanimity, you will begin to approach a calming sense of serenity towards yourself and your outlook on others. This is the place where love is formed and the place where it will continue to reside. Once it’s there, it will not go away. You just have to remember to keep paying it a visit when your old conditioned self gets the best of you.
To get started, write down a few sentences that you can recite upon waking or when you feel yourself slipping back towards your previously negative self. Make it a mantra. Mine is: I am a happy, healthy, loving woman. It reminds me to be kind, compassionate and full of love always.
And what could possibly be more acceptable than being full of love always?