I’ve established a mantra recently that brings me great joy. It goes something like this. I see something that makes me uncomfortable. For instance, one time it was a woman in the Target parking lot who was wearing shorts so short that her butt cheeks were hanging out. I caught myself inwardly cringing and then diving into a tailspin of unkind questions: Why would she do that? Is she looking for attention? Or does she genuinely not know any better? Is she so insecure that she needs to get attention like that? Or is that what confidence actually looks like and I’m the insecure one with my three-inch inseam?
And when I catch my inner monologue getting judgy, I mentally stop myself and say, “That makes me uncomfortable. But it’s none of my business.”
Then I go about my business. And if my judgy thoughts interrupt again, I repeat to myself, “That makes me uncomfortable. But it’s none of my business.” And I repeat it as often as necessary until my brain is engaged with my own life, my own choices, or at the very least, my latest Game of Thrones theory.
I can’t speak for previous generations, but I would imagine that they were better at minding their own damn business for a few reasons:
1. The internet. Keyboard courage is real, sisters, and it’s a terrible thing. People get behind their computer screens, and they will say horrible, spiteful things that they would never say to a person’s face. Trust me on this one. I used to facilitate an online forum with tens of thousands of users, and it was like trying to negotiate middle school all over again.
Not only do people say awful things online, but I also wonder to what extent social media cruelty and bullying has made it more acceptable to be rude to people in real life. Now that we all have instant access to an audience, to a certain extent I believe that has translated to a false obligation to give public voice to all of our thoughts and opinions. Even the ones that might be better off staying private. Do we have freedom of speech? Of course. Does that mean that we should say every damn thing that comes into our heads out loud? Hell no. Words are powerful, powerful things. They can make a person’s day, or they can trigger shame and embarrassment. They must be shared mindfully and with a sense of responsibility for the consequences.
2.Closer communities. I don’t have any proof of this, but I would imagine that when communities were closer knit, people were a little more hesitant to piss people off and have to deal with the social fallout. We have so many “friends” today. It’s pretty common for people to have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook. But we have a lot fewer strong, lifelong relationships. People move more often. They don’t have the same ties with extended family. They rarely spend their lives at the church where they were baptized.
In many ways relationships are more disposable. It’s so very easy to hit that “Unfriend” button on Facebook. After all, the only consequence is typically going to be some slight awkwardness the next time you run into that person, and for most Facebook relationships that won’t be very often. The last time I unfriended someone, I hadn’t seen that particular person in years. However, it would feel very different to “break up” with a friend who you would be sitting behind in church every weekend and running into at every community event for the rest of your life.
In a way, due to the transitory nature of relationships in the modern world, we’ve begun to prioritize the discomfort of keeping our opinions to ourselves over the value of friendship.
3.Too much time. I honest to God believe that a big part of our problem is that we simply have it too easy. Now, I say this as someone who is constantly whining about how I don’t have time to keep my house clean – I’m admittedly the worst offender I know here – but seriously. My grandmother was keeping house, cooking, and cleaning for a family of fourteen in a time before dishwashers. I’m assuming she was too tired and too busy to spend a lot of energy worrying about things that weren’t her business.
Whereas my Grandma was consistently busy with hands-on chores, I’m spending more time checking out Facebook while my kids play at the park, trying to decide exactly how I feel about Kim Kardashian’s ass breaking the internet. And you know what? For all I know, while Grandma Dort was peeling potatoes, she was also busy contemplating whether so-and-so’s dress at church on Sunday was entirely proper. Maybe our thoughts weren’t that different after all. But where her thoughts probably stayed just that, my thoughts can become public in a matter of moments.
It would be great if we could all simply stop thinking judgmental thoughts. But I’m definitely not there yet, and I suspect most other people aren’t either. However, we don’t need to be slaves to them. We don’t need to let them rule our lives and our relationships. Because the fact is that most of our judgmental thoughts are about things that have nothing to do with us. They are none of our business.
That woman’s shorts had nothing to do with me. I could look at her fashion choice and put a lot of meaning on it regarding what’s fashionable, what people find attractive, what those shorts meant about my own legs and the things I do or don’t like about them, etc. But the fact of the matter is, that woman and those shorts were none of my business. None. Maybe she had a rough week and they were the only thing she had clean. Maybe she spent the past year working out so that she’d be comfortable wearing shorts that short in public. Maybe, maybe, maybe…. None of it matters. It was none of my business, and her choices had nothing to do with me. So I directed my attention elsewhere.
So what does this have to do with sisterhood? A lot.
I would argue that the ability to redirect judgmental thoughts and mind your own business is essential to strong relationships. It’s really, really hard to form intimate friendships if you’re sitting back stewing on every choice someone’s made that you don’t agree with. It just can’t be done.
Attending a sister circle – or any social event where you want to form genuine bonds with people – requires vulnerability. You need to be willing to open up and share things that you wouldn’t share with just anybody, and in return, you receive unconditional acceptance. It’s an exchange: vulnerability for acceptance. And a key component of acceptance is that you can step outside of your own comfort zone and recognize that other people – your sisters – are on their own unique path that might look very different from your own. But that in no way makes your path or your story less valid. You’re both just two souls doing your best to get through life, haphazardly picking up the lessons you’re supposed to learn. Your journies might be very different, but they’re both good and worthwhile.
At first it’s uncomfortable to swallow judgment. It’s uncomfortable to trade in the adrenaline rush of self-righteous fury for repetitions of “That makes me uncomfortable. But it’s none of my business.” However, there’s an awesome pay-off. The first one is freedom. When you train your brain to stop fixating on other people’s business that feels threatening, you gain more control over your own emotions. Instead of spending time thinking over and over again about why I would never shorts that short, I can get back to daydreaming about Jon Snow’s dreamy dark eyes. That’s a good trade-off, right?
Even more importantly, I’m not closing myself off from people. I can sit across from another woman at circle while she shares something that is totally outside my own experience, and instead of thinking about how I would never make that choice, I can connect with her. I can recognize her vulnerability, accept her, and be brave enough to offer my own vulnerability in return. And that’s how sisterhood happens.
In short: Mind your own business, and sister on.