From Judgment to Curiosity – Part One: The Shift

Thanks,Deborah Bennett Berecz, for your comment about wanting more on “how to stay curious and not be distracted with agendas and power struggle.”

We were standing on the front porch: My grandson, Sam, was showing his mom and me how to use a new technological wonder he’d gotten with some birthday money—part of it from me and his Grandma Monza.

Just as the gate slammed behind me when I left to go home, I heard Sam call out “Grandma, Grandma!” His eight-year old voice filled my heart with love. He burst through the gate, ran up to me and said, “I didn’t need your charity to buy it.”

I have no idea what I said to him. Feeling utterly stabbed in the heart, I got in my car and drove home. With tears in my eyes I thought words you might imagine: privileged, spoiled, ungrateful. My hurt mingled with anger and judgment for several hours, I think, until a thought came to me. My mother taught us that appreciation was at the heart of much of what was good in life, connection with each other, the ability to feel joy. If I didn’t deal with my hurt carefully, I might create a power struggle with Sam around appreciation. I thought, “This is too important. I can’t mess up how I handle it.”

In that same instant, I became curious and wondered,“Where did Sam learn the word ‘charity’?” It wasn’t the question I would have imagined, but once it came to me, it seemed to be the perfect starting place for a conversation with him.

My shift in focus popped me instantly out of a power struggle I didn’t even know I was in. I was struck by the suddenness with which I had been transported from my place of hurt, anger and judgment to a place of curiosity.

To Be Continued …

Part Two: The Surprise Ending

From Judgment to Curiosity – Part Two: The Surprise Ending

[If you haven’t read Part One, go to: The Shift]

The next time I picked Sam up at school, just as we got out of the car at my house, he actually used the word charity again, so I asked him where he learned it. We sat down on the front porch stairs in the sun as we talked. He said, “When we went to an animal shelter on a school trip, they told us it was a charity.”

Now, my mind turned completely around. I wondered if he somehow had associated the idea of giving money to help homeless animals with some kind of negative feeling or sense of poverty when using our money for his gift. When I asked him about it he said. “Oh, No, Grandma, I just wanted you to know that if I hadn’t had your money I would have worked to get it myself.” Then he said, “Grandma, I just love it when we talk like this.”

All I could think was, “What would I have done to Sam if I’d continued to feel hurt and angry? If I had said something to him about being ungrateful?” How could I have been so wrong about him being rude and ungrateful? Well, he was running fast when he blurted that he didn’t need my charity to get the iPod. How often do we hear things and realize later the person meant something entirely different?

In that moment I realized how unconsciously I had moved from feeling hurt to judging Sam. I was already setting the stage for saying something to him that would have created power struggle between us over what I had assumed to be his lack of appreciation.

My realization expanded into in a broader insight about how often I let hurt feelings make me feel victimized, which then invariably entwines the hurt with judgment and morphs them into power struggle. In retrospect, the shift seems completely obvious. In the moment it was completely unconscious. I only knew I felt hurt.

A second realization came to me. I had been using and recommending the question I offered in the Curiosity Blog: “What would I want to know if I were truly curious right now?“ I had experienced how this question could move me—and others—from a place of power struggle to one of curiosity. But this time it was a belief I held that had moved me.

I began to see countless options for shifting from judgment to curiosity. We could ask ourselves whatever question fit the moment, like, “What would I want to know . . . if I weren’t afraid right now? . . . if I trusted that you care about me? . . . if I weren’t intimidated? . . . if I saw my own part in our conflict?” Beyond questions, I saw that thoughts, feelings, and beliefs could also transport us out of power struggle to curiosity—as instantly as hurt can draw us in. We may still need to deal with hurt or anger, but we can do so from a place of integrity and openness. In my case, I discovered there that my hurt had no cause outside my own mind.