This morning, while walking my dogs, I noticed a bumper sticker on a car parked in my neighbor’s driveway. It said simply, “Co-Exist”. I have seen this bumper sticker many times but today, for some reason, the simplicity and significance really struck me.

I guess one could take the meaning in a number of different ways, but I took it to mean, “Don’t tell me what’s best for me. Let me live my life the way I want to, and don’t judge me for what I decide.” It seemed especially important to me because of the many ways, in the media and in other venues, I’ve seen people commenting on what others choose to do in their life.

It’s not that we aren’t entitled to have our opinions – we are. And it’s not that we don’t believe we know what’s right and what’s wrong. Our filters assure us that we do. It’s just that we spend too much time, in many cases, focusing on what’s wrong with others and not enough time looking at how we can be more compassionate, kind and giving human beings.

Why is it so easy to find what’s wrong with someone else? Why can we easily identify what “they” need to do differently? Why are we so quick to point out someone else’s failings? Not that I advocate beating up on oneself either, but it’s always interesting to me how quickly we can put our finger on something someone else has done inappropriately, when in another case we’ve often done the same thing.

Recently, I had occasion to speak with a friend who was very frustrated with another friend of ours. The person speaking to me was lamenting how “no one cares about anyone else anymore.” I like this person fine, but I’ve observed how unwilling they are to give much of their time or consideration to other people. They like to wait until someone else makes a move first and approaches them. And yet they complain about how other friends are not willing to put themselves out there, when they are doing the exact same thing!

Doesn’t this happen a lot? I see your foibles and criticize you for some behavior that I also engage in. I know all of the ways I would like you to change, many of which I’d like to change about myself. In fact, oft times other people are holding a mirror up to us; what we dislike in them, we actually dislike in ourselves. Not always, but at times, this is the dynamic that plays out in our relationships.

So, why is it so hard to co-exist? I think in many cases we want validation. We need other people to do it our way so that we can validate that our way is the right way! Other times, we are put off or out of kilter because someone is doing something we can’t relate to, or don’t recognize. We become focused on fixing the other person – making them do it our way, instead of taking the time to learn something about why they are different and making different choices.

This week, become aware of those things about others that bug you. Be aware of the types of things you judge and you criticize. Again, don’t do this to beat up on yourself, but rather do it to help point out things you might need to learn about yourself. Refrain from wanting to tell others what they “should” or “should not” do, and instead try to learn from them. Become inquisitive and interested, not difficult and destructive.

See whether you can learn something new this week about something you think you don’t like. Practice co-existing, and refrain from having a say about someone else’s life. See what happens when you do.