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I Just Don’t Get It

I just woke up (don’t judge me) and turned on the TV to find that Wilson will not be indicted for Brown’s shooting. I try not to use my blog for ranting, so instead I will write about my confusion, since I’m almost always confused about something when I write.

Sometimes, despite being a psychologist and despite my super-empath skills, I still can’t understand why some people do the things they do. I studied prejudice and discrimination when I was in grad school, so I can tell you the theories that attempt to explain why some people choose to hurt others to make themselves feel better. Ingroups and outgroups. Competition. Fear of the unknown. Just world theory. Projection of weaknesses. Id impulses.

But sometimes the hatred that fuels prejudice and discrimination is so intense that intellectual theories fail to capture the atrocity of these acts.

And this does not only apply to race relations. It also applies to the backlash that women get when they finally have the courage to come forward and say that they were sexually assaulted. It applies to people who try to share what the darkness is like during a depressive episode, only to have a loved one respond with a dismissive I don’t believe in depression. It applies to the demons that seize every opportunity to make us feel worthless, unlovable.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not immune to darkness. I judge. I criticize. I will attack someone’s vulnerabilities in an argument. I have sinned. I have given in to demons. But I cannot say that my instinctive response to anyone has ever been to hate them without cause. Fear them, perhaps. But not hate them. And I have never had the urge to hurt someone who didn’t hurt me first.

Hatred. Darkness. Evil. Perhaps these are subjects that go beyond what psychology can offer. Perhaps religion and philosophy can do a better job of explaining why. Although I haven’t heard an explanation from these disciplines that I find satisfying, either.

At least psychology has given me something to do during these moments that are beyond my comprehension. In these moments, when I feel helpless to provide any kind of meaningful contribution to make the world a more loving place, I can pray. I can practice compassion and lovingkindness.

And I can blog.


Judgment, Part 2

I have always been an equal opportunity dater: I do not discriminate based on ethnicity, age, SES, marital status, or diagnosis. I have even dated people for the sole purpose of overcoming some form of prejudice against them. It was sort of like radical empathy training.

But it did not go well in many cases. Like that time I dated someone who was 23 when I was 35. I didn’t discriminate based on age, which in my mind was a good thing, but it was hard to have a meaningful conversation with someone that much younger than me. I’m actually kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. I never admit that I dated him whenever I see him on the tennis court–which rarely happens, thank goodness. Although he did introduce me to the movie “Elf,” for which I am eternally grateful.

I think I have taken the Christian and Buddhist mandate to be nonjudgmental too literally. I took the idea of having an open mind about someone to such an extreme that I rarely said no to anyone who asked me out. And then I tried to make the relationship work, even if I didn’t like the person.

I’m beginning to think that’s not what Jesus and Buddha meant at all about being nonjudgmental. When Jesus said to love our enemies, he probably didn’t mean we should date all of them.

Plus, if we aren’t supposed to judge people ever, that would also mean that we shouldn’t say that someone is a good person, either. How can we say that Nelson Mandela was an exceptional human being without comparing him to others who are less exceptional? Some judgement of others is unavoidable.

So maybe it’s OK to decide not to date someone based on ethnicity, age, SES, marital status, or diagnosis in a non-discriminatory way. Maybe I can even decide to say no just because they eat their peas one at a time, like Seinfeld did. Maybe I don’t have a moral obligation to give everyone a chance.

Maybe I really do think too much.

Despite the logical argument I have laid out here, I still feel bad when I imagine turning someone down because I have judged them to be undesirable in some way. But I guess choosing not to date someone isn’t the same thing as saying someone is a bad person. And really, that is the judgment that Jesus and Buddha seem to be the most concerned about.

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but my friend took it and I think it’s cool.

blue balls

Photo: Allison Szuba