Human capacity is a topic I have been thinking a lot about lately.
After my second Covid vaccine, I suffered mild symptoms of aches and chills for a day. I was extremely lethargic and only wanted to lay around and sleep. I simply didn’t have the capacity to do any work at all. Activity or even being upright very long just wasn’t in me.
Earlier this year I had to put down one of my dogs. Since then, I have been much more attentive to my other dog, Panda, a border collie/Australian shepherd. I’m walking him more, engaging in games and training, and generally being more present. What can I say but that somehow, when I had two dogs, I wasn’t able to fully engage with either one! Somehow the combination of pets limited me. I simply didn’t have the capacity to be fully present with each one.
I have a friend who needed help with some tech issues. I thought it would take ten minutes, but I ended up spending nearly two hours solving my friend’s problem. I could have become upset that he didn’t bring the stuff he needed, but he didn’t; he’s just not detail-oriented or tech-savvy. How could I judge this person for not knowing what I do? How could I blame him for not being prepared? I realized I could not judge him for lacking capacity.
Sometimes people lack capacity because of physical, mental, or emotional constraints. Another reason can be bias, the limitations we experience because of what we believe and how we think. The way we see the world is always incomplete and actually stands in the way of us truly understanding most of the time. Social scientists continue to discover more about the constraints (lack of capacity) that limit us.
I recently watched the film, Anita, about the infamous Anita Hill and her rise to prominence during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings 30 years ago. In 1991, I was a Limbaugh-listening conservative who joined the train that discounted Hill. Despite being a woman, I was unable to hear Anita’s story of alleged sexual harassment by Thomas. Instead, I went along with the perspective that she was speaking untruths to prevent Thomas from becoming a Supreme Court justice.
Likewise, the all-white-men panel could not hear; these men could not escape their biases. If Hill’s accusations were true, they couldn’t understand why hadn’t she hadn’t reported the abuse when it happened?
The men on the panel had absolutely no capacity to understand how truth-telling could devastate the career a non-white, non-male person with little power. For them, it was a cut-and-dried issue based on their power and privilege; they could not imagine a world otherwise.
Now I view the expressions on the faces of those clueless senators as shocking. They had no capacity to escape their perceptions and biases.
It was fascinating to watch the Anita documentary through my current eyes and not my eyes from 30 years ago. Whereas my previous biases kept me from really understanding Anita’s story, my healthier, more educated, and self-examined self could grasp the complexity of the situation and exercise more compassion.
I’m realizing more every day how much we judge each other about things for which people simply don’t have the capacity. We all have profound limitations. Our biases and a lot of other factors prevent us from seeing reality. We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.
And yet, as a college teacher, I consider it one of my responsibilities to increase the capacity of my students. Some of them lack, for example, discipline; they never learned it and seemingly have no capacity or even tolerance for it. Yet I believe they can grow in this area and doing so will improve the rest of their lives.
And as a citizen of the world, I believe we must keep inspiring individuals and systems to wake up. For example, systemic sexual abuse is coming out of the closet and citizen videos are exposing police violence.
I believe we need to strike a balance between non-judgementalism while also, like a mother bird in late spring, push culture forward. We don’t comprehend flight till someone kicks us out of the nest. Sometimes we need a kick; sometimes others need a nudge.
It strikes me that we have at least three areas for growth:
- Be careful not to judge those who don’t have the same capacity. It is our ego that tempts us to put others down so we can feel better about ourselves. How very silly and sophomoric.
- Expand your capacity by learning, dealing with your issues, and growing. Be better today than you were yesterday.
- Help others to expand their capacity so they can be healthier humans. Everyone needs those who can see what we can’t see.
I am very intentional to learn something new every day and pay attention to problems in myself that need fixing. In recent years I’ve come to see and understand concepts and behaviors that used to escape me. I’ve gained a new understanding and changed so very, very much. And my biggest temptation? It’s to judge those who have not come along as quickly or as far as me.
I certainly don’t want to be judged by those who have gone quicker and farther than me!
I still have so far to go, knowing I am supported by and cheered on by love in the universe.
We might be led to explore some questions. How do we overcome our own biases? How do we stretch our capacity? How do we non-judgmentally help those around us gain more capacity, keeping in mind that they will likely have a lot of barriers to overcome in doing so, just as we do?