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Yes, and?
February 24th, 2010

Like everyone else in the world, I am imperfect.  I have many faults.  I confess them and deny them.  I dance around them and obscure them.  I own them and explore them.  I overcome them and resign myself to them.  Some of them are obvious (inability to put away laundry that GAP has dutifully folded; propensity for letting receipts pile up before entering them into the check register; general procrastination; etc).  Others make themselves scarce.  They lurk in shadows and underneath strengths.  They come out when I think no one is looking.  They are shy, but they are there.   

Two of these subtler faults are insecurity and judgment, and they are an especially potent pair.  In my experience they tend to masquerade together.  For me, and probably many other people, the former begets the latter.  Because I lack supreme confidence about many aspects of myself I make comparisons to people around me and key in on faults of theirs to relieve my own self-doubts. 

Standing in line at the grocery store on a bad hair day I may look at the woman in front of me and think, “Would it kill her to get those highlights touched up?” 

Self-conscious about the crack that has been growing in my windshield since November I look at the dented car next to mine in the parking lot and think, “Well at least I’m not letting body damage go unrepaired.”

It’s not pretty.  In fact, it’s all rather ugly.  If it were done out loud, this behavior – this beating you down to pick myself up – would be called bullying.  That’s right, bullying.  I’ve never bullied anyone in my life.  I’m the nice girl who wants everyone to like me.  I don’t bully.  Except that I do, quite silently in my mind.    

I’ve been thinking about this ugliness of mine because I was recently reminded of a saying that is a divine antidote to such tacky behavior.  One of the ministers at a former church of mine used to respond to judgmental gripes with, “Yes, and?”  These simple words convey profound truth.  At first they are light and airy.  But after some consideration they become heavy with meaning.  When extrapolated out to their full significance they mean, “You are right.  But there’s more to the story, isn’t there?”

Yes, because there is always more to the story.  No one can be fully explained by his or her circumstances or behavior in one specific moment.  The woman who just cut you off in traffic also just returned from a long business trip and is rushing home to see her kids before bedtime.  The guy who played hard ball just a little too hard during a business negotiation is also fiercely devoted to his family and active in multiple charities.  The neighbor who talks your ear off when you’re running late is painfully lonely and in need of any conversation she can scrape together. 

Indeed, there is always more to the story.    

My favorite thing about these two little words is that they simultaneously validate and invalidate the judgments we offer.  Yes – Technically you are right about whatever tasteless, unnecessary, and critical comment you are making.  And? – But the fact of the matter is that in the larger scheme of things what you’re pointing out is probably also petty and irrelevant.   (This is then followed by the implied, “So cut it out, would you?”)

Insecurities are tricky things.  We have them about our looks, intelligence, income, athletic ability, social class, worldliness, popularity, and myriad other topics.  And for the most part, we keep them private.  Sometimes we confess them to spouses, friends, and other confidantes.  We expose them to light and dispute in the hopes that they may be dispelled by an objective (or at least sympathetic) counterpart.  But largely they live in the damp darkness of our minds – conditions perfect for growing insecurities and mildew.  We feed them with our doubts and then let them fester for months and years, unchecked by reality.

We permit this rampant growth of insecurity because we know what it does to us.  It makes us judge.  And we do not want to find ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s judgment.  It’s ugly and hurtful and we know it.  We can’t have our vulnerabilities running around in broad daylight where anyone having a bad hair day can silently shoot them down.

But what if we broke the cycle?  What if we thought Yes, and? instead of the insecure judgments that probably spring to mind first?  What if I gave you a break and you gave me one?  What if we looked at each other with empathy?  What if we didn’t take everyone else’s success as a referendum on our own failures?  What if we didn’t see everyone else’s frailties as a stinging reminder of our own faults?  What if we said Yes, and? and then moved along?  We don’t know the whole story.  So why bother trying to judge based only on what we can see?

8 Responses to “Yes, and?”

  1. Anne Says:

    Very cool thoughts…we’re all guilty of this at some time or another. And I know I tend to do it more (be judgmental) when I’m already grouchy. And then I feel guilty for being judgmental and it makes me grouchier. Nasty cycle. I like this response..”yes, and?” I’m totally adopting it.

  2. Lindsey Says:

    Very thought-provoking, and so true … You are absolutely right that our insecurities lead to our judgment (at least for me). The quote I always come back to, over and over, is “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Plato). It is so hard to remember this, in the maelstrom of insecurity and comparison that besets me, several times a day. Alas. Thank you for this, which is reminding me to come back to the fact that I cannot know what is behind the choices or appearances of others, and that comparisons are just plain futile.

  3. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Brilliant post, Gale. You know I am deeply interested in the landscape of insecurities, in how these insecurities manifest and drive us. I think you are right to posit an intimate connection between insecurity and judgment. I wonder if conscious thought, excavation of existential soil, can separate these two things? Whether we can come to know our insecurities – and use them to our advantage – in such a way that they don’t automatically make us judge self and other…

    I too am discussing insecurities today. Insecurities about education and the expectations it brings with it. Would be very curious to hear what you have to say on the matter.

    (And of course I am super insecure about the vulnerable piece I posted. Of course. At least I own this, right?)

  4. Eva Says:

    I love this phrase: Yes, and? I need to use that often. You perfectly describe our inner fears and doubts. They DO grow in a dark and damp environment, like mold or mushrooms!

    Similarly, I try to remind myself that everyone has their private burdens. We simply don’t know what struggles people face. A coworker may appear to have the perfect life but is actually struggling to keep her house from foreclosure. A friend may be fighting an internal battle with addiction, afraid to reveal her weakness. A client may be unresponsive to your messages because he’s taking care of his ailing parent. We simply don’t know the full story – and we should give people the benefit of the doubt. Wouldn’t we ask the same of them?

  5. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Oh, Gale, what a fabulous piece. I feel as though you have looked into my heart and mind and written my exact feelings and thoughts. I think a lot about this idea of Freudenschade (Schadenfreude’s even uglier stepsister), but often I’m accusing others of it. The way you have expressed yourself here has made me recognize the degree to which I participate in it as well. And the idea of “Yes, and…” is worthy of becoming a new rallying cry. Yes, and. So brilliant.

  6. Nicki Says:

    This post is amazing! I have thought this many times – we cannot possibly know what is going on inside someone else’s life until we are truly in it. Since that never really happens, why do we think we can pass judgment?

  7. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Five Dollar Post: The Exception to the Rule Says:

    [...] was not two weeks ago that I got up on my soapbox and said that we shouldn’t judge.  Oh, what a hypocrite I am [...]

  8. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Too Little Too Late Says:

    [...] I believe the assumptions we make about people are always colored by ourselves; by our biases, insecurities, defenses, and pride.  So often we see what we want to see.  When looking at people whom we love and admire we see strength of character, keenness of mind, and generosity of spirit.  When looking at people who threaten or intimidate us we see any number of qualities that vindicate us or make us feel superior.  But if we were to harness true objectivity, even for a moment, we would see that each portrait contains nuances we’d previously overlooked.  We would see that there is more to the story than we may care to admit.  [...]