Over the weekend I was subjected to folks offering an enthusiastic assessment of what they consider to be my flaws. It was not a pleasant experience, but truth be told, it’s an exercise I used to be painfully good at. In one of the circles I run in, we call it taking somebody’s inventory – a fancy way of saying being openly judgmental for little reason other than that we can. For years I was told that’s something we humans are not supposed to do. But my experience this weekend reminded me of the importance of inventory taking and the ground rules it should carry.
When I look back twenty-five years on the know-it-all, loud mouth I was, I cringe deeply and for a good minute or so. I was the worst kind of inventory taker: I gave opinions without being asked, and I wasn’t the least bit mindful of whether I was hurting someone. It took a few years in the real world to figure out that people didn’t care what I thought about anything and expressing my opinion made me very easy to dislike. Once I got that lesson, though, I made the mistake that many converts make: I went too far the other direction. I started feeling like I needed to find a confessional every time I had a less-than-flattering thought about the words or actions of others.
Then I made the very fortunate move of mentioning my guilt over continuing to be judgmental to an older and wiser friend. She set me straight once and for all.
“People have to take each other’s inventory,” she began. “How else are we going to know whether a person is a healthy, positive addition to our lives or someone that we should keep our distance from? To be completely accepting of what people do and say is just not very smart. Taking somebody’s inventory isn’t wrong, but sharing that inventory with them is!”
I’m grateful to have that fifteen-year-old mini-lecture to remember and hold onto. It empowered me this weekend to politely point out to the person judging me that I hadn’t asked for her opinion. It also empowers me daily to hold my emotional distance from folks with behavior on their storeroom shelves that can be damaging to me.