The Canoe

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We are all judgmental, no exceptions. While we like to espouse our neutrality when it comes to the actions, beliefs and choices of those around us, we are not as impartial as we profess to be. And it is easy to prove this to yourself. Try to go a single day without thinking even one judgmental thought. Every time you find yourself critiquing anything about another human being, consider it a judgement and then start over again. It is highly likely you will start over again every 38 seconds. If you don’t believe me, try it.

As you sit in traffic, what thought do you have about the driver ahead of you? How about the woman in the supermarket who is shopping in her pyjamas? Or the young kid working at the fast food restaurant who is confused when you hand him $10. 07 for a purchase that rang up for $9.67? Are you critiquing the driver’s skills? Wondering why in the world the woman didn’t at least put on a pair of sweatpants? Secretly thinking the kid who doesn’t really understand why the seven cents makes a difference isn’t very bright? Probably…

This is where we begin allowing our judgments to lead us down the path of interference. Initially, our judgements are just our thoughts. We believe our thoughts cannot really harm anyone and we so deem them innocuous. But then, one day, we speak our thought. Usually, it is in the name of being helpful. If the thought we shared gets rejected, we might try again, with more emphasis on our position. It is possible we might even try to intentionally alter the course of another. We mean well, but we forget this isn’t our place.

Instead, it is our challenge to remember that everyone has their own individual canoe. The paddle is expertly fitted to our hand size and arm length, allowing us to navigate our path. The people around us have their own canoe. It is filled with the particulars of their own journey. Occasionally, we get close enough to view the details of another’s trip. It is at this juncture that we begin to formulate our perception of their specifics. If we find their route disconcerting, we tend to want to change it, imparting our better judgment onto their actions or choices. Sometimes, we even feel compelled to try to right a portion of their map to match our experiences or expectations. While this can be dangerous, the most precarious position we can take when we sidle up beside someone is to decide we know enough to hop into their canoe and paddle for them, altering their course.

We do this when we superimpose our judgments onto their journey. We determine that their choices regarding their career, relationships, religion, health and child rearing are laden with decisions and actions we would never make. Sometimes it is because we have already made those seemingly imminent mistakes and we want to spare others the pain we have encountered. Oftentimes, it is our ego telling us we know the best way to handle these ordinary human experiences. We are smarter, more experienced and know that their outcome will be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst. Our advice should simply be heeded. We are merely trying to save them from themselves. There should be no arguments and no rejections.

But when we insist on stepping into someone else’s canoe, the most likely outcome is tipping over both ours and theirs. Everyone will get wet and the path of travel will be delayed and disrupted. Time will be lost as people scramble to right their canoe and get back in. Yet, the same journey will be waiting patiently for us to return and proceed. The outcome will not be altered.

We are not allowed to interfere with the path of another via our thoughts, opinions, impositions or actions. Instead, we are meant to watch, hold space, respond with empathy or compassion and allow another’s pathway to unfold naturally. To offer our best self means we are only meant to glide quietly alongside another traveler, respecting their flow, staying seated and keeping our hands and feet inside the ride.

ShelliAuthor of Circles of the Soul, Marymichelle Lotano has explored the areas of personal growth, meditation and art. Ms. Lotano is currently a full time writer and mother, residing in Carlsbad, California. Visit:


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