Judgments. It seems that no matter how far I’ve come on this journey of awareness and growth, I still occasionally catch myself judging or making quick assumptions about others. Usually they are people I perceive to be different from me or who have made very different choices than I have. I’m not proud of it, but it happens. Perhaps you can relate. If we’re really honest with ourselves, probably we all get caught in judgment from time to time.

Usually the judgment is so subtle that it passes unnoticed. I’m very good at seeing the bigger picture, at letting people be where they are, at accepting what is front of me in the moment and working with it. I’ve had a lifetime of practice.

And yet, every now and then, someone or something comes along that triggers a fear inside or challenges my view of life. And in an instant, a whole story flashes in front of me. That story may have nothing to do with what is really happening or who “those people” really are underneath the surface. Yet in that moment, I’m so caught up in the outer appearance that I forget to look deeper for better understanding of what’s really going on. There is always more than meets the eye.

Sometimes we don’t know how to be with people who have been through incredible difficulties, maybe even unspeakable horrors, and have chosen to thrive in the face of incredible odds. Perhaps they have walked through the fire and have grown a thick and tough skin to protect themselves.

Or maybe they’ve already lost so much that they feel they can’t possibly lose anything more. And so they are authentic and real in such an unsettling way that their gaze and their presence cuts through pretense, façades, or masks without regard for politeness or what is “appropriate.”

Perhaps they’ve been shunned by society for so long or have been beaten up by life so many times that they don’t have the energy to hold up a mask any longer. They have no time or patience for anything that is not totally honest and true. They recognize that life is precious – that things can change, or life can end, in a flash. They are just present – whole and real and unapologetically honest about who they are, what they think, what they’ve learned, and what really matters.

They can be disarming and uncomfortable to be with, yet the truth they speak may be so simple and clear. It just is. That’s what makes being with them not so easy. You can’t hide in their presence. They can see right through your mask.

Yet if we are willing to take off our masks and be vulnerable, to just be present with them with no agenda, and give them a chance, they just might also let us see their vulnerable side. They might even share some simple yet profound wisdom or understanding that they’ve come to through their experiences.

Filmmaker Nic Askew has a gift for helping people strip away all that is not real so that their heart can speak directly into the camera. Juan Carlos Molina is the Director of Rehabilitation for the Guatemalan Penitentiary System. The two partnered recently to make a short Soul Biography, Recovering the Diamonds. In just eight minutes, Juan Carlos shares his moving story of discovering that even people who have done horrible things have a soul – that there is a treasure buried inside them that wants to be seen.

Juan Carlos speaks of his discomfort in not knowing how to “be” with these people. He had the same fears that many of us do. Yet he discovered that if he could step beyond his fear and just be real, be authentic, and let his soul shine, he could see that the gang member or murderer facing him also had a soul that wanted to shine. Simple as that.

In Juan Carlos’ words:

I didn’t believe that they had the ability to make a connection with something so pure. But when I started speaking to them, I really saw that they are totally equal to us. The fact that you are in jail or that you have done something bad as seen by the society doesn’t mean that you are not a human being.

When you understand the process of life and of that person, you then don’t judge because you understand. That doesn’t mean that what they have done is not bad. It’s bad. But again, when you understand the process, you don’t judge. Because then, something inside of you says, “Ah, that’s why.”

You must be willing to feel it. They share something so intimate, that when you receive that, and you don’t judge it, that’s special for him and for me. It’s like a soul connection. That’s like you discovered the treasure of a person. If that person is willing to share their treasure, why won’t you be able to share yours also? It’s like a rich experience. That’s the maximum expression of human relationships.

Thanks to Nic Askew for permission to share the film.


P.S. If you found this post and Nic Askew’s film with Juan Carlos Molina interesting or thought-provoking, write a comment below and let’s get a conversation going. By sharing insights and perspectives, we all stretch our awareness and understanding.


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