Joshua in a Box: Moving from Judgment to Compassion



In the late seventies, I saw an animated film by John C. Lange called Joshua in a Box.  (You can see the film on You Tube).  I think I saw (or maybe dreamed of) a version that showed another Joshua outside of Joshua’s box, laughing at him inside the box.  The laughing Joshua was unaware that he too, was in a box, albeit a bigger box.  That image of a laughing Joshua has been hanging out in my mind’s eye the last few weeks.

Laughing Joshua calls forth the question: How much do I judge or ridicule others whose life experience appears to be much more limiting than mine?  I know that this judgment does no service to anyone, except for my ego that wants to ensure my place of secure righteousness.  How can I move from judgment to compassion for someone who may see only one right answer that is his/her right answer when I can see so many more expansive possibilities (in my opinion)?

I know that moving to a place of compassion for the other is a space that allows all of us to breathe more freely.  Compassion is a deep feeling of empathy with the situation and perspective of the other as well as the self, with the intention of supporting the other as well as the the self.  Having compassion for the self and the other opens the possibility for change to occur.  For me, moving from judgment to compassion is not easy, though; it’s not like turning on a light switch.

I have found that the process of entering into the situation and perspective of the other is helpful for me to move toward compassion.  I take into consideration what I know about a person’s life experience with differences and their cognitive ability to include complexity in their thinking. I also work with the continuums of intercultural communication style differences that you can explore on my Relationship/Cultural Awareness page.

There are also two models I use that support me the most.  The first is a simplified version of William Perry’s model of intellectual and ethical development.  I break this down to five stages of development that move from simplicity to more complexity in thinking.

Stage One is to see only one way, which is my way.  Example: The only ones who are saved are in my religion.  All others are lost.

Stage Two is to see many possibilities but still one ultimate right; there are many ways, but mine is the one best way.  Example: Communism, socialism, and democracy are all forms of government, but democracy is the best way to govern.

Stage Three is to see many possibilities; your way might be different from mine: what is right for me might be wrong for you, and what is wrong for me might be right for you.  Example: I am attracted to males, not females.  My female friend is attracted to females, not males.  I am okay with her attraction to females, but it is not for me.

Stage Four is to recognize that there is a way that fits each context and situation, but the dominant group makes the decision for the overall society.  The non-dominant group gets to make their own decisions within their own group only.  Example: We each can practice the religion of our choice in our private lives.  In public school, however, the right way is to not practice religion at all.

Stage Five is to see that together we can create a way that fits our context and situation.  We come together in respect, listen to one another’s views, and work together to agree on a best approach for this situation.  What is right is not absolute.  It varies with the context and situation, that is, the time and place.  The right way for both perspectives is a mutually created approach.

When I am in a situation where I am judging the other, first I remember that every person is doing the best they know how in any given moment.  (When have you ever consciously tried to do your worst?)  Then I ask myself, in what stage of thinking is this behavior I am judging?  The answer helps me to move toward compassion.

The second model I use is an experience of difference model. You can find this model described on the Community~Assessment page of my website.

For me, my judgment pops up when I am faced with a situation where someone is in defense of his/her way as the right way, or s/he just thinks that we are all the same and wants the same for all, without considering what I think and feel.  When I apply the model to the situation, I shift into compassion for the other when I realize that it is a life-long learning process for all of us.  This person’s experience has taken them to the stage they are in.  Unless I am in the role of teacher, my role at that moment is to let it be.  I need to act with integrity and, depending on the situation, I may need to say something non-defensively that reveals another perspective and let it be.

We all live inside a box, those cultural boundaries that give us a sense of who we are.  It is important for me to recognize where my borders are and to continually be open to new learning, which will continue to expand my box.  Interestingly, those with whom I slip into judgment because I see their boundaries as too limiting may be the very ones who (unbeknownst to them) also help me expand my own boundaries.

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