While Practice II might be the toughest ask of the three, this Practice is the one that you will probably identify with the most. This comparing my best with your worst is a normal human tendency. But, it is one of the most deceptively divisive ways we interact with others. It may not be as blatantly critical as “At least I don’t [fill in the blank with some counter-criticism],” but it shows up in many subtle ways all the time. Maybe you pass by a homeless person and wonder why they can’t get a job and take care of themselves like everyone else. Perhaps you hear a screaming toddler in a grocery store and think, I wouldn’t let my kids behave that way. Or you look at the way someone is dressed and comment that they are too old, too heavy, too young, too whatever to wear that.
Our propensity for judgment permeates everything we do and it happens without us even realizing it many times. In fact, we may have to actually stop and think about what we say, think, and do throughout the day that in subtle ways is comparing our best with another’s worst because it comes to us so easily. The goal of Practice III is to understand that, while we may not keep ourselves from judging someone else, we can begin to see people through a lens of compassion instead. (Of course, this does not mean swinging in the opposite direction of self-deprecation. That is not showing compassion to yourself.)
When we engage with our ideological opponents and participate in the Project of Us we begin looking for positive things to say about someone else rather than negative ones. This allows us to begin to see where they are coming from in the beliefs they embrace. Remember how your mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? In Practice III, we want to aim for digging deeper, taking the time to get to know the other person better, and looking for the nice thing to say. It might be something superficial at first, but eventually we will get to the place where we are able to see that even though we may not agree with their perspective, we admire their conviction or respect the fact that they are just seeking what they believe is best for their friends, family, and community.
Practice III is where we really get into re-humanizing people and learn how to stop reducing them to their opinions. It is where we discover that it’s about more than live-and-let-live, agree-to-disagree thinking; it’s about understanding why differences exist and being curious enough to find out their Why.