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A great way to tell whether or not you’ve moved on from a former relationship, bad judgment, or old habits is to ask yourself this when you get worked up: Was I being a dummy or the real deal just now?
I have an acquaintance I’ll call Sarah. I ran into her a few months back, and giving me the fish-eyed once over, she proceeded to fill me in on her latest exploits of grandeur. The she turned her attention to my new purple pencil-leg pants. Her sideways compliments shifted toward envy and an uncomfortable form of cult worship; she went on about how my pants were to-die-for, and when I saw her two weeks later, guess who had not only purchased my pants, but she boasted how she found them on markdown for a fraction of what I paid, too. Then she went on about how she’d placed an order for a green purse just like the one I often carry, only this one, she said, was updated. Sarah is harmless enough, really, but some days I have to dig a little deeper to find patience for her.
Sarahs of the world annoy me because they’re the ones who appear like they have all the fun on Facebook, they’ve got the greatest luck, the best connections, the most money, the fewest issues, and to hear them tell it, a never-ending stream of admirers. The Sarahs of the world stop at nothing to remind us of their significance, which, ironically, makes them the opposite of all that. I think we’ve all probably known a Sarah (or her male equivalent) at some point, and every last one of them. Works. My. Nerves.
I’m lucky to have friends I can tell the real deal to. I get to act a fool and spew my venom on the Sarahs of the world—and my friends have the same courtesy with me—and we don’t judge each other for it. I love that. During one such conversation with my friend Bailey, I said, That damn Sarah, what a dummy. She is such an imitator. I kept on about how annoying she was until there was nothing left to say about her. Then, as conversations go, Bailey and I worked our way around to new topics—and back again. I told my friend how I’d gone for a 5-mile run earlier that morning in 90-degree heat. She interrupted me rudely: And you said Sarah was the dummy? To keep the peace with your girlfriends, sometimes we must ignore their shortcomings and rudeness, mustn’t we?
I told Bailey about the elite runner who passed me twice on the path; she was gazelle-like, devouring the trail with her impressive pace. She was breathtaking as she glided along, where I shuffled and grunted by comparison. I gushed about the woman’s outfit; it was some kind of pyro-technical, moisture-wicking state-of-the-art ensemble I just couldn’t be without. I it will lengthen my stride, regulate my O2 exchange, speed me along, optimize the wind resistance, and shave seconds off of my performance, I said. I just know it.
As I turned my attention to the elite woman’s outfit, my friend pointed out how my initial compliments had shifted into envy and slid from there into an uncomfortable form of cult worship. Well, when you put it like that… I said.
Once again, the heavy hand of self-inquiry had given me the finger of reflection that pointed squarely at my many assumptions. Who are you calling a dummy and why? And what makes you the real deal? it asked. I’m telling you, the finger can be rough sometimes.
I gave it all some thought—Sarah’s raving and my ranting—and I was reminded of some very important truths I’d like to run by you:
1. Dummies are driven by outward appearance. In both our cases, Sarah and I saw something outside ourselves that we were convinced we needed. We figured that looking the part would somehow change us for the better or improve our performance in an area we felt we were lacking. I can’t speak for Sarah’s logic, but there is no way a fancy short set was going to make be a faster runner. The bottom line was I had to put in my mileage, period. The gazelle knew it too; she was the real deal. And that leads me to my next point;
2. Real deals already know the truth of who they are. They own it. When you’re the real deal, you don’t quibble and bargain. You don’t waste time judging and dashing about trying to get more stuff to make you look better, either. When you’re the real deal, legitimacy and power emanate from within you—you own it. You don’t need to flaunt or justify yourself to other people, which prompts me to give you the finger and ask you to ask yourself—the next time you’re caught in an extreme reaction—was I being a dummy or the real deal just now?
It’s not easy to acknowledge less-than-flattering aspects of our personalities, but experience shows me that each time I investigate the ways I judge other people, I learn a whole lot more about myself in the process. Do not kid yourself on this point: real self-inquiry is an ongoing, deeply personal practice—the key word here being practice. How willing are you to look behind the front of your own judgments? Better yet, how willing are you to listen for the answers and revise your life accordingly?
Once I finished sifting through my annoyance at Sarah—who, by the way, represents various people and perspectives I’ve encountered over time—I recognized the opportunity to look at the ways I may have overcompensated when I was feeling scrutinized, judged, or less-than-legitimate in other people’s eyes. The defensive feelings I had in response to her were applicable to myself all along. Aha! Getting down to the real deal of what bugged me brought me to a deeper understanding of my own emotions, which then led me back to more compassion for Sarah and whatever her struggles were.
Getting stuck in judgment of others can make us defensive—because they’re offensive, right? It closes us down and shuts us off from important lessons. In more extreme cases we start behaving foolishly, leaving little room for the truth to trickle in. Before we know it, we wind up hardened, inflexible, fake, and manipulated after a fashion—just like dummies.
Depending on what day you catch me, I take comfort in knowing my willingness to be the dummy — or to have that pointed out to me when I can’t recognize it on my own — can teach me a whole lot about compassion and help me become a better person when I allow it to. That being said, let’s be real—I still want to look good in the process. Is that so wrong?
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