We’re continuing our stories of Belonging series as told to Pop-Up Story Catcher Kirsten Fogg at this year’s Big Day of Belonging. Susan tells how she tries to reconcile the judgmental and compassionate sides of her character.
I’ve been doing a lot of self analysis and self reflection. I’ve been reading a book actually been writing word-for-word the chapter that’s related to me. It’s a meditative practice and it’s really slow. I’m a speed reader. I’ve read the whole chapter but didn’t remember much at all. So I bought myself a calligraphy pen and I’m writing it out in a beautiful book and it’s helping me reflect.
Anyway the reason I’m telling you this story is because it’s made me realize I have a feeling of superiority. This is not really positive about me. And this feeling of superiority really separates me from others. Not so much now, but certainly when I was young. I grew up in Mackay — it’s a sugar town in the north of central Queensland — and I developed my moral compass by reading C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I had this belief that good people were rewarded and bad people would be punished. I got that from books. I didn’t get that from my parents.
I grew up wondering why people are so mean. I went to primary school in Mackay and the kids were so mean to each other. I didn’t realize then that I felt superior to them but I felt so separate to them because I couldn’t understand why they behaved the way they did. And then going on into high school I had issues with friends and then issues with really desperately wanting to be popular, so wanting to belong, and then not really seeing eye to eye with the majority of the people around me that were the same age. I got on so much better with adults.
I think that because of the books I read I absorbed, without meaning to, this Christian upper class attitude: certain people know how to behave and other people don’t.
I just thought everyone should know how to behave. And when they were mean to each other I didn’t know how to relate to them. My parents are quite cultured and Mackay is a very uncultured place. It was really hard. I loved books and I loved reading and I remember being teased for reading a book called The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy by Penelope Lively. I loved stories about England because I felt there was a place over there that had the same beliefs that I had: that we should be fair to each other, that we should be kind, and that kindness gets rewarded. So it was a real shock to me that kindness wasn’t rewarded.
As an adult, and I’m talking about this because I’m just working this out now, I didn’t realize that that was the problem for me for so long. I think I separated myself psychologically because I was like: I don’t understand you. You suck.
I’m a really judgmental person and I don’t want to be. That’s been my big struggle. I don’t want be judgmental and I really really really am. Judging separates us from others. People could be behaving a certain way because they’d been born into a different family, or didn’t have the education I had, whether it’s through books or parents or surroundings.
Now I’ve got to unpack all this judgement going on. Why do I think I’m a bit better than other people just because I have different morals? It’s just different. Different doesn’t make me better and different doesn’t have to be bad!
So that’s where I’m at in terms of belonging. I’ve always had this displaced sense of Who the hell am I? And what am I doing here?
How much you judge yourself?
Terribly. Terribly. It’s been a struggle throughout my life. I used to have terrible depression but I’ve worked through a lot of that. It’s really been an interesting process. It’s made me a better healer because I’ve got huge amounts of compassion. So when I’m working I have no judgement and I like myself when I’m working because I know I will like whoever comes to see me and I will have their total best interest at heart. I connect with everybody when I’m working. There is no separation. I feel hugely open and I develop really beautiful relationships with people in my work. I like myself better in my work than I do outside my work.
I thought I was a compassionate person and I’m compassionate in my work but I have to learn to be compassionate outside of work. I actually think I need to do lots of personal work. More meditation. But not in a forced harsh way. I’ve always been an extreme personality so if I’m doing yoga, I do it two hours a day, six days a week. Now I think, Ok, maybe I just need to be flow-y about it all. Behave a little more kindly towards myself.
My husband said to me once — he’s such a beautiful man — Sweetheart you’re not judgmental, you’re just very discerning.
As told to Kirsten Fogg, Writer Out Of Residence & Pop Up Story Catcher