Are We Too Judgey?
When Donald Trump won the 2016 election, like many New Yorkers, I felt blindsided and helplessly disconnected from the rest of our country. I had to wonder how much of a bubble New York City indeed was. How did we so underestimate Trump’s appeal? Why? Inversely, why were we so ineffective in communicating the merits of our viewpoint and candidate to the rest of the nation?
So many New Yorkers come from other states. Collectively, we should have a gut instinct for the sentiments of our friends and family back home, shouldn’t we? But all too often, we don’t. The answer, to me, arose from an unexpected and tragic experience: my mother’s painful passing in July 2018.
She and I had never really gotten along. My adolescent ambition of getting as far as possible from my upbringing was fueled by a loathing I had for the household she tried to keep together after my parents’ divorce. Refrigerator frequently empty. No extra money for clothes…or really anything. No vacations. No dining out. I mowed lawns one summer simply to buy our family a lawn mower. There was always lots of yelling and screaming in our house as she tried to manage me and my brothers. We were a family forever imploding.
Early in my teenage years, I had determined…judged…that it was not the life I wanted to live. That judgey-ness kept me laser-focused on classes, athletics and staying out of trouble. Ultimately, I managed to attend the University of Pennsylvania on a full Navy ROTC scholarship, successfully altering my life’s trajectory.
While I would periodically see my mother over the subsequent years — through my careers in the Navy, law and wine and through the start of my own family — there was usually a tension between us. I had always blamed her for that tension. Because my mother was too irrational. Because she was too irresponsible. But in her excruciating final days, I realized that, while she had her many flaws, it was me who had been the cause of that tension.
I had never let go of that judgey instinct, and it came across when we interacted, whether on the phone or in person. I could be rude, disrespectful and condescending sometimes in slight and not-so-slight ways. While I’d do anything to go back and mend those ways, I have since recognized that judgey wiring as the defensive response of a teenager encountering life circumstances he didn’t like.
On a larger scale, I find it’s quite common to encounter NYC transplants who, at one time in their past, concluded…once again, judged…that their hometown was too boring or backwards or limited and moved to the City as soon as they could for its never-ending stimulation and rich diversity. They believed they needed more, deserved more; they could do better.
I wonder how many transplants living in New York City (or perhaps any other city) ever let go of that judgey-ness towards their hometowns, home states or home regions. How many continue to dismiss…even if it’s just a bit…those prior communities as boring or uneventful or backwards or ignorant? That judgey filter, I believe, is a significant barrier to respecting, understanding, communicating and connecting with the rest of the country. Ironically, the web of connections New Yorkers have to the other forty-nine states may possibly increase our isolation.
Of course, there may be hometowns unacceptably hostile to difference and resistant to evolving with the times, but many others are reactively lumped with them by judgey NYC transplants. We consequently lose an opportunity to connect and learn about them.
We must lift that filter if we are to better communicate with fellow Americans about the merits of our ideas and to better understand the merits of theirs. It will not only enhance the possibility of advancing certain objectives, but, more importantly, it will help bring us all together and enhance the chances of effective compromise, which our nation needs to see a whole lot more.