To know who our children really are, we need to observe our children at work and play. J. Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, wrote that the highest form of human intelligence is observing without evaluating.
The more I observe, the more I understand Krishnamurti.
Observation and evaluation serve us best as separate activities. Observing people’s behavior and keeping the observation free of the evaluating components of judgment, criticism and psychoanalysis can be challenging to say the least. Some might say impossible.
Observing the child having a temper tantrum, we tend to think and judge: My, what an awful child. Criticism enters: Why don’t the parents do something? Analysis begins: Poor child. Not enough sleep or adult guidance. A good snack and a nap will fix that.
Even if we can avoid judging, criticizing or analyzing, other tendencies creep into our observations. Labeling and classification begin with thoughts such as: Oh, that child’s trouble, is spoiled rotten, has bad parents, needs medication, should see a doctor, and on and on.
Name-calling and pigeonholing, though, don’t help the child or strengthen our relationships. One of the inherent problems with language is the difficulty we have in making words represent a world of change, growth, processes and other dynamic functions. With every experience, we are all changing. How can our thinking and language embrace that change?
Observing while withholding evaluation aids us in finding the complexity in situations, as well as understanding the inadequacy of language to define a constantly changing reality. Language limits our perception of the whole child, the whole person and the whole world.
As we observe we need to train ourselves to be aware of how language, a static process in a dynamic activity, makes it easy to judge, criticize and analyze others’ behaviors.
Unfortunately, recipients usually perceive our name-calling and labeling as critical and judgmental, and not as an offer of help or guidance.
The words, always, never, every, whenever, as well as frequently andseldom, exaggerate a situation and create defensiveness in the listener while confusing observation and evaluation within the speaker. A few examples follow:
Evaluation: He always throws a fit.
Observation: This past Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, for about ten minutes before dinner, he has lain on the floor, cried and kicked his feet.
Evaluation: His parents never make him behave.
Observation: On two occasions I saw him throw books off the shelves with no interference from his father.
Evaluation: He is just hungry and overtired.
Observation: He didn’t eat any lunch and was up at 5:30 this morning.
To communicate effectively and understand how to strengthen a relationship, practice observing behavior without evaluation. Edit out the judging, criticism, analyzing, name-calling and labeling that prevent honest expression and compassionate listening, the two key components to effective communication. The heart of our relationships lies in our ability to communicate honestly and with compassion.