Judgment is one of the fastest ways to lower your energy levels and invite in negative emotions such as frustration, anger, and sense of failure. It is easy to recognize it when we do it up front – “she has terrible hair,” or “he needs to work out,” or “how come they don’t know this?”  But the judgment has dangerous forms, and it can put on the cloak of “doing the right thing” and deceive us into believing that we are acting out of love.

For spring break 2018 my family went to Orlando, Florida. On the day we visited the Gatorland, a wildlife park for alligators and friends, judgment snuck up on me in its most dangerous form, and also revealed that it is present not only in human lives but in the lives of other creatures under the sun.

In the afternoon it began to rain, quietly, as if the sky really didn’t feel like it, but since it was on the calendar for that day, it had to deliver. And so it did, without passion and heart.

We took cover in one of the watchtowers. From high up, we had a perfect overview of a small lake packed with 100 alligators and countless cranes building nests in the cypresses that bordered the lake. One pair of cranes were building theirs right beneath where we were standing.

The nest building was a team effort. I am assuming it was a male and female, but there was really no telling. The big fat one was what we, humans, would call a senior foreman of the construction site. It stood there, receiving building materials such as sticks and weird debris, and placing them in the growing nest. The other, smaller and skinnier one, kept hauling in the building materials.

The half-built nest did not look like much. It was a pile of sticks placed on top of each other – no intricate basket-weaving skills here!

At some point, the smaller bird brought over what was not an impressively large branch as in the previous rounds, but what looked like a sodden moldy straw. The big fat bird stopped and stared for a moment, then shook its head before reaching with the tip of the beak to receive it, as if saying, “Really, that’s what you’ve got?”

The poor skinny bird went out, stayed away a bit longer, and finally came back with a massive branch that dragged behind the bird on the surface of the water.

All I could think of the fat bird was, “Who are you to judge, you can’t even build a decent nest!”

There I was, truly believing that I was standing up for the skinny leg-worker of the crane world. But the truth was, I was standing in the rain, judging the bird who was judging the other bird. That is the most dangerous judgment – an attack thought pretending to be, in this case, standing up for the oppressed.

So we judge. We judge without taking a close look at ourselves, without seeing the faults in ourselves, and without realizing that we are all the same, trying our best.

Just as the fat bird judged its mate, I judged it for judging, without realizing that the very thing I was criticizing about the fat bird, I was doing myself. And my basket-weaving skills are just the same, so who am I to talk?

Do we have faults? Yes! We all have a shadow we haul around. It’s what makes us vulnerable, gives us layers. Learn to love your shadow, and as a result, others’ shadows become lovable as well.