In my younger years, I was a judgmental bitch.
You could easily measure the starkness of my own black and white morality against my mother’s rather colorful “perception is reality” view of life. As she tried to explain to me why this wayward friend and that misguided castoff was joining us for the holidays and deserving of “a break”, I would constantly remind her that no, in fact, reality was reality. She would tell me that good people sometimes did bad things, and I would affirm that the sun even shines on a dog’s ass sometimes (or, bad people can do good things and still be bad people).
My mother often tried to teach me that “life is not always so black and white”, and yet I remained steadfast in my own conviction that “the grey area is for pussies”.
I was always particularly hard on women.
It was easy for me to look at a woman’s life – the sum total of her actions and choices and mistakes – and quickly apply a label that easily identified her shortcomings. Whore. Slut. Weak. Needy. Victim.
I had no time or sympathy for a woman who “needed a man”. I offered no respect for a mother who “chose a man over her children”, or over anything, for that matter. If you professed to subscribe to a certain set of morals and your actions did not fall in line with those values, you were a fraud. You lacked strength of conviction and the fortitude to stick by your beliefs, and were therefore undeserving of my compassion or affection. Plain and simple.
During the best of times, my mother would gently tease me about my narrow view of the world while she quietly hid her own secrets from me. At the worst, more heated times, she would painfully point out my self righteousness and flash her frustration with my high horse.
To say our polar views on the world and the people in it was a source of contention would be being polite.
And then a funny thing happened – if you find hypocrisy funny.
I fell flat on my face.
Over and over again.
As I marched steadfastly through life, armed with a blind conviction in right and wrong, I found myself slamming into obstacles that I was remarkably unprepared for. Marriage… motherhood… loneliness… doubt… fear… insecurities… regrets…
I found myself making choices based on desperation rather than principle. I did things I am not wholly proud nor ashamed of, but that I will never discuss here on this blog. When faced with opportunities to thrive or survive, I picked survival – at times leaving my own oft professed values behind.
As the skeletons began to collect in my own closet, I realized that my perspective was changing. But what was not changing, what remained at the heart completely intact, was the fabric of Who I Was.
I learned that a person is not, in fact, the sum total of their past choices and actions. I learned that it was possible to fail to live up to a pristine ideal, and still believe fervently in the ideal itself.
And I started to look at the people around me differently. I remembered the time my best friend had reached out to me from the depths of a broken marriage, and I had chastised her for her “mishandling” of the situation. I vividly recalled both loved ones and strangers who I had been quick to judge, and I was ashamed at the opportunities I’d missed to offer compassion and empathy. I was simultaneously grateful for the compassion my own friends had offered me, and embarrassed for how unlike them I had been in the past.
And I remembered my mother.
Thinking back over the years on all the times she had been afraid to come to me – knowing that I was not a safe place and could only offer her reproach and disapproval – I was relived that she had been able to find other sources of comfort. Those same people that I had harbored such disdain for had been able to give her the support she so desperately needed. They offered her understanding and acceptance seeped in their own failures and regrets, while I clung smugly to the fact that I had no reason for things like regret.
I was humbled. And, I’d like to think, I was softened by the less prideful experiences of my own life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several days. My tiny corner of the blogosphere has been positively aflutter recently over questions of morality and judgment and right and wrongs and choices and decisions and blame and responsibility. I’ve seen words tossed around like “whore” and “slut” and “cunt” and I find myself wincing at the callousness with which these labels are being slapped onto other people – fictional or otherwise.
What surprises me most is the harshness with which women judge other women. How quick we all are to drag one another into the town square to be mocked and flogged and branded a fool. Or worse. How easy it is for us to look past intentions or motive and jump immediately to self righteous indignation.
Is it that we forget our own transgressions too easily? Or is it all too easy to disguise our own shortcomings with the cover of “at least I wouldn’t do that“?
Is it at all possible that there are still people in this world who have yet to fall short of the glory of their own ideals?
I don’t know. But I know that for me, at least, I have come to see that a woman’s worth, including her morality, is much more vibrant and complex than simple black and white. I believe now that my mother had a point all those years when she insisted that we are all simply doing “the best that we can with what we know at the time”. And that beyond hypothetical discussions of theory and possibilities, there is very little room in this world for arrogant judgment.
Of course, I still view a man’s morality in pretty simple terms. Good guys and bad guys; nice guys and assholes; bystanders and white knights. My new found allowance for complexity does not seem to have extended to the less fair sex.
And we could discuss the irony of that at length… but for today, I think I’ve rambled and navel gazed enough.