I love the TV show Big Brother.
There I've said it.
I've loved it long beyond most people my age. I've loved it long beyond it being the novel TV phenomena it was when it first started over a decade ago. It's not 'worthy' TV. On the surface it's apparently meaningless, reality TV nonsense. But there's something about it that keeps calling me back.
For me, it's the opportunity to sit back and watch people. To understand what makes them tick. What triggers them. What brings them alive. My soul is, and has always been, hungry for that kind of knowledge and insight. And Big Brother offers that up in spades.
But there's something else too. To me, it seems like the fame-hungry Big Brother housemates are engaged in some kind of prime time, heavily edited morality play. And because Big Brother is always watching them, they constantly run the risk of having things they have said and done played back to them. They run the risk of something they said about a fellow housemate being played back into the house for all to hear, including the person they were talking smack about. It's entertaining (in a mortifying kind of a way) to watch.
But what interests me, much more than the ghoulish entertainment of watching people squirm on TV, is the reminder it offers us that there are real consequences for the way we choose to conduct ourselves in the world. That there are real personal consequences when we talk down the people around us, when we fail to be generous in our judgements of our fellow human beings, and when we diminish others in order to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.
And sure, on Big Brother, the process is sped up, and the consequences are dramatic, tangible and uncomfortable to witness. But it's actually no different for you and I. When I open my mouth, and give air time to my critical, judgemental thoughts about those around me, there's a part of me that knows this is a shitty way to conduct myself. There is a part of me that knows this is not in line with how I want to show up in the world, and there is a part of me that knows that I am adding nothing of any value to the conversation I am having in that moment. When I choose to head down that judgemental road, once the initial euphoria of 'getting it off my chest' has passed I am left feeling grubby, unworthy and cheapened by the experience.
While no one is replaying my comments for my reality TV housemates to hear, and no one is filming me behaving in that way, there is absolutely still a consequence for me. And while that consequence isn't publicly shaming or humiliating, I am left feeling shabby and like I've let myself down.
Now in no way is this suggesting that you or I should beat ourselves up for our very human imperfections. Nothing, but nothing good can come from that. But what the human petri-dish that is Big Brother has highlighted for me, is how automatically, quickly and unthinkingly we choose to judge the people around us. How, so often, this is our 'go-to' position. How happily we excuse ourselves for being judgemental and critical behind other people's backs, because what's the harm? They'll never know. Right?
Sure they won't necessarily know the words you said to your spouse about them, or the sentiment you expressed to your friend over a glass of wine. But they absolutely will experience your inability to look them in the eye, or establish a meaningful connection with them next time you're together. It's abundantly clear when something's "off" in your relationship with another person, when judgement and criticism are alive in one or both people. And if you're honest with yourself, you will absolutely feel the icky, grubbiness that comes from judging another human being behind their back, and smiling to their face.
It feels icky because we're wired to connect with one another. It feels grubby because as Brene Brown says "we are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick."
I don't want that for me, I don't want that for you, I don't want it for the Big Brother contestants, and I don't want that for any of us.
So next time the temptation arises to judge, criticise and berate another human being for being as imperfect as you are, notice what's happening. Remember you are wired to love and connect with the human beings you share this planet with. If you need to, imagine the impact of your words being played back for that person to hear Big Brother style - and then decide if what you have to say still seems worth saying.
In all likelihood, it probably won't.
This post was originally featured on Michaela's blog Parenting in Public. Read more from her there.