A few weeks ago, I awoke one morning from an upsetting dream, the details of which I will not be sharing with you. No offense, of course. The fact that I refuse to share the details of this dream with you speaks to how highly I respect you.
Because I, unlike some people, fully understand that relaying any aspect of any dream is, by its very nature, the most boring content—aside from Jim explaining Star Wars lore—that humans provide. So much so, in fact, that listening to the retelling of any dream is the boundary line of my love, for my husband and my children. I’ll endure an episiotomy, I’ll endure sleep deprivation, I’ll endure cooking dinner, but I will not listen to you tell me about your dream with even feigned interest, let alone a smile or eye contact.
So for you, dear reader, I’ll just give you the most unsettling part of the dream: In it, I cut off all my best friend’s hair.
I awoke the morning after this dream with two dilemmas to face: 1) working through the meaning of this dream; 2) convincing someone to listen to me talk about this dream when I’ve made it abundantly clear I will never, not ever, return the favor.
The first dilemma. My subconscious was trying to tell me—or warn me about—something. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously thought about taking Kate’s hair into my palm before positioning the dirty scissors from the kitchen at the nape of her neck and detaching her ponytail in one satisfying snip. So what exactly was the deep dark recesses of my mind trying to communicate? Was I mad at her? Was she at me? Did I hate my own hair? Sure, but that’s not a new thought and one for another day.
It must be something deeper, darker, a place my waking mind was too afraid to visit. Yes, this was a dilemma indeed. I was clearly having terrible thoughts about one of my favorite people, and I clearly wanted to do bad things to her gorgeous mane. The only obvious takeaway for me is that I must be a bad friend.
Then the second dilemma. I needed someone to listen to me talk about this dream. I needed them to offer me more than the shifting eyes and stifled yawns I always gave them. I needed someone who was more loving and giving than I, who would sit with me for a while and figure out when I became such a terrible person.
Jim seemed up for the task when I found him in the living room drinking coffee. Or, at least, he didn’t physically remove himself from the area when I asked if I could share my dream. He sipped cautiously while I relayed a truly abhorrent number of details from my dream, ending on the only information that I feel is pertinent—I cut off my friend’s hair.
When I was done, Jim’s nose scrunched and his head tilted—classic Jim contemplation—before asking: “Did you two have a fight?” My hand flung to my chest as if expecting pearls. We had not! Why would we? How dare you! And at that point I physically removed myself in search of someone else who would have a less upsetting theory about my subconscious.
I called my sister. Biologically she has to love me, but logistically she doesn’t have to answer her phone. She did though, and much to her dismay, I relayed my dream before she could fake a meeting or a cold. When I finished meandering through a long-winded account of my dream—with a truly disrespectful amount of details—she simply said this: “That doesn’t mean you’re a bad friend, Meg. You’re a great friend! Maybe she did something to upset you.” What? I’m in the clear but Kate messed up? Kate is a saint and I’m the least offendable person in the world! How dare you! And with that I hung up the phone (I’m sure I said “thanks,” or at least “bye”) and went off in a huff, fully planning to swallow my dream along with the deep insecurities that I would die friendless (if not, perhaps, surrounded only by bald acquaintances).
And then I happened upon London, who was eating cereal in the kitchen with the level of dedication and enthusiasm I think we should all bring to our lives’ activities, and I plopped down in the chair beside her. I sighed loudly, in the way adults do when they want attention but for which they believe they are far too mature to just ask. She looked up at me with her big, green eyes lightly covered by her honey-colored bangs that were rumpled from sleep. “Morning, Mommy!”
Yeah, kid, some morning. It’s all sunshine and Lucky Charms until you realize you have a dark side of your brain that is evil and has plans to destroy your friend’s chance for a banana clip. I looked down at her and thought, she doesn’t know any better. I could tell her my dream and she’d have to listen to it because she’s too pure and innocent to know how terrible it is to listen to one. Besides, she always seems interested when Jim talks about Wookiee culture. I shrugged, took a big breath, and told her everything (even some of the details I spared the man I sleep with and the sister whose kidney I may one day need). When I finished, landing strong on the fact that I had cut my friend’s hair off, she blinked once and then asked:
“What color was her hair?”
Judgment is an easy, comfortable, and often ugly feeling. The Crocs of feelings, if you will. And we slip them right on before we allow ourselves the chance to walk around barefooted. Judgment, often confused for criticism, is the act of attaching meaning to something. And while judgement and criticism are two different things, they often feel the exact same. But unlike criticism, judgment can be complimentary. We can attach good meanings to things--but sometimes, my friends--that can be as dangerous as attaching bad meaning.
Point is, when we attach meaning--good or bad--we've judged. And we often do that quickly, compulsively, and without understanding more.
I had awoken from my dream already judging myself—My subconscious self! My sleeping self! I was labeling myself as a bad friend. Why else would those thoughts be in my head? Jim instantly attached meaning by coming up with a possible theory—that my friend and I were fighting. And to think I have kids with that judgmental monster! And my sister worked to assuage my concern that I was not a good friend, wanting to talk me out of any bad feelings I might have about myself. Why oh why did we leave our kids to her in our wills?!
And yet my six-year-old daughter did nothing of the sort. She simply listened and stayed curious. She didn't project. She didn’t speculate. She didn’t assume. She didn’t attach any meaning (good or bad) to any part of it. Nope. She just kept digging in with curiosity: what color was her hair?
Well, kid, it’s red. Her hair is red. And it’s thick, and shiny, and some of the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen. Is it relevant? Who knows. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s meaningless.
Now, my daughter is just a kid and hasn’t been taught how to judge yet (that’s what junior high is for). But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get the credit for listening in a really meaningful way. For responding in a truly helpful way. What if we all did that—listened, developed questions, and responded in a curious way and left the meaning for another day.
Think of how good our daily interactions would be.
Not too judgy,
Not too encouraging,
But juuust right.
Follow me on LinkedIn
Buy my latest book Everything Is Negotiable