inspiring people

Who Are You/I To Judge? Learn To See People Like Trees


I saw this post on a friend's facebook wall and was reminded of my greatest challenge and greatest work. I read it and thought, "yes. This is right. I need to do this more. I think people need to do this more."

It was especially poignant because I've been feeling my inner critic, my critical mind as Pema Chodron calls it, sort of taking over the joint lately. I know it's because my own life is in such constant and furious transition; change is so good and can also be such a challenge. I get those feelings out, in part, by displacing frustration, anxiety and feeling a lack of control via my biggest vice: judging. Judging people, judging society, judging myself--harshly. I see this happening all over facebook and hear it in the words of others more clearly, perhaps because I'm increasingly more aware of my own habit of doing it.

When we judge ourselves and others, we lose connection to them. We lose compassion for self and the beautiful imperfection of each person. We lose sight of the truth that we are all miraculous works in progress, each trying to get through a day doing our best with the best we have.

I was born and bred to be a judge. My mom passed it down from her mom. Perhaps my great-grandmother was a judge, too. I didn't know her. It's probably a safe bet.

But I grew out of it for a short while when I was in the company of a wonderful community in my early twenties. There wasn't much time or need for judging because I was surrounded by love and fun and joy in my career and my relationships.

Then, I fell in with a crowd of some fierce judges. They used the guise of "social justice" as the validation but the tone and tenor of their thoughts, words and actions were undeniably clear: JUDGMENT. Hanging around that scene nurtured what was already a really bad habit of mine so it probably wasn't an accident that I "found" that community. I must have had more work to do on that part of myself.

For years, I justified my behavior of harshly judging and criticizing others' thoughts, words and actions because that's what everyone else was doing. We rationalized the behavior and enabled it in each other. The lessons I learned about difference were framed with the message of suffering as a victim. I was taught that differences meant someone lost and someone won. I learned that it was my job to suffer because others were suffering. I learned to take a back-seat and speak up for people instead of encouraging them to find and use their own voices.

All of this has merit, but it was a flawed philosophy. It's true that I learned a lot about identity and perspective-taking and privilege, but I came away from that community more damaged than healed and it's taken me years to see it and come back from it.

I keep quite a few of those folks on my newsfeed to remind me of how far I've come and how far I have yet to go.

Judging ourselves and others is a habit. It's pervasive and rooted in my own self-esteem and self-confidence. The saying goes, "we judge in others what we don't accept about ourselves." I'm judging myself right now for sharing this so openly and honestly. But what bothers me more about this social media thing than the false sense of connection with each other, is the false sense of identity people present. I'd rather be inspiring from a place of honesty than a false pretense.

So, I am integrating the best of that old philosophy I was taught into a new model. I am learning to see people like trees, as Ram Dass says. Seeing them for the ways they've been shaped and molded based on what they've endured---but not judging them for it, because the judging won't change anything. Loving does.

I am practicing this, especially when feeling most triggered, most frustrated and most disempowered in my life. I want to practice doing the best with what I have and what I've been given and inspire others to do the same, even though we are given and have different things.

I am learning to see myself like a tree, shaped by periods of brilliant light and perhaps a lack of nutrients at certain points but standing strong, despite.


Grace Grows: Interview with author Shelle Sumners


I hope you are having a GREAT Summer.

This post is the final installment of the Super Summer Reading series. I've really enjoyed sharing these books with you. The three authors I featured are friends of mine and people whom I find inspiring and whole-hearted--and brave. They also happen to work wonders with words.

In case you missed them, you can catch up with Amy Wright Glenn and Matt Kailey by reading my previous posts about their books here, and here.


Today I bring you the third and final featured book. The novel is Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners. Shelle and I worked together in a church years ago and we promised each other we would make our respective dreams come true: hers was to be a published author and mine was to be a speaker and writer. Looks like we kept those promises to each other!


Meet Shelle.


Shelle Sumners lives and writes in Bucks County, PA. Her debut novel Grace Grows, published by St. Martin’s Press, is a Random House audio book, a Featured Alternate selection for Doubleday, Literary Guild, and Rhapsody Book Clubs, and is published internationally. It has a companion soundtrack of phenomenal original songs that appear in the story, written and performed by her husband, singer-songwriter and Broadway actor Lee Morgan.



DD)  Hi Shelle. Thanks for being great and making time for this. Why did you want to write your book?

SS: I had a compelling dream about a woman and a man who were together at a waterfall. It was just a snippet of a moment, but I knew what they were feeling—love, sadness, and hope. I woke up and the arc of their story started flowing through me like rushing water. I sat up in bed and speed-wrote 18 legal-pad pages of notes about Grace Barnum and Tyler Wilkie. I started writing their story that week.

DD)  I know that writing a book is no easy task. What moved you from idea to action?

SS: I had spent a few years teaching myself to write screenplays and knew all along that I was building up to writing a novel. At the time I started writing Grace Grows, I had just completed my first attempt, a rough-draft novelization of one of my screenplays. Grace Grows was my first novel written completely “from scratch.”

DD) what were 3 obstacles you met while writing?

SSChallenge one: Time. Never enough. I was working full time, so I wrote the book at night and on weekends. I did a lot of scene writing in my head while driving to and from work. It took me about 18 months to finish.

Challenge two: I was trying a couple of new things—writing in first person and writing humorously. These were fun challenges to try to meet. I read a lot of David Sedaris and Anne Lamott on the side, for inspiration.

Challenge three: Going the distance. Quitting writing Grace Grows was never a deep possibility, because I was so in love with Grace and Ty. I needed to see how it was all going to turn out for them. But I could have been easily drawn away from writing by the demands of daily work and life and how tired I sometimes was; by how often I wanted to just do nothing. At the time, I had a subscription to these daily Buddhist wisdom emails and one day I got this bit of scripture from the Dhammapada (translated by Thanissaro Bhikku)

Having applied himself

to what was not his own task,

and not having applied himself

to what was,

having disregarded the goal

to grasp at what he held dear,

he now envies those

who kept after themselves,

took themselves

to task.

I tacked this to the bulletin board behind my computer monitor, at eye level. I’m looking at it right now.

DD) I love that quote. And that story! You're such an inspiration to me while I take on the task of writing my book.  Tell me two new things you learned about yourself while writing:

SS: I am here to make things with words. Life becomes timeless and deeply blissful when I am creating a moment in a story.

DD)   See, even in that answer you made something beautiful. In your own (beautiful) words, why is your book good summer reading for my tribe/community?

SS: Grace Grows is about a woman who is learning who she is and how to live freely and authentically. It’s about rapturous romantic love (and sex). It’s about comprehensive, lifelong sexuality education. It’s about forgiving your parents, and how friends can be family.

DD)  This was so fun. Please share anything else you want my readers to know:

SSGrace Grows has an accompanying original soundtrack of the songs in the story that Tyler Wilkie writes for Grace Barnum. They were written by my collaborator (and husband), real-life singer-songwriter Lee Morgan, and they are truly amazing and lovely. You can hear one of the songs, “Her,” on my website, along with samples of the other songs:



You can purchase Shelle's book, Grace Grows, right here:


Other links about Shelle: