MY WEEKLY BLOG
BE A WITNESS, NOT A JUDGE
Love is the answer,
whatever the question.
– – – Wayne Dyer
The above quote may sound a little airy fairy, but no one ever criticized the Beatles for singing, “All you need is love.” When I was spending a great deal of my time writing other people’s stories, I was surprised to get a big lesson in love.
Ghostwriting can be extremely anxiety producing. Over the decades that I’ve done this work, the most challenging part is not the interviewing or the writing. Those things are demanding but I feel the most challenged when I’m about to meet a celebrity client for the first time, to face someone whose reputation precedes them, good or bad. I’ve found ways to stay calm as I wait for a legend to walk through the door. I slow my breathing and discipline myself to
overlook any gossip that may be circulating in the tabloids or on social media. There is no way to know what is real and what is made up so I don’t try to determine that. I remind myself to believe what my client is telling me as I leave any preconceived notions at the door and get ready to meet someone who is living a public life and dealing with the difficulties that come along with that. My job is to be a witness, not a judge. When they arrive for the first meeting, my job is to listen and see them as they are. Not to change them or
challenge them or fawn over them.
When Magic Johnson walked into the room in his basketball gear, I was overwhelmed when he put out his large hand to shake mine that was about half the size of his. But when I got a hold of myself, I noticed that the man sitting across from me had a limp in his right leg, had tested HIV positive and had to take the pharmaceutical cocktails that would stop him from dying.
When I heard Diana Ross humming a tune, I reminded myself that she was an exhausted mother of two young boys who had no idea who she was. She was also a daughter and a wife who happened to sound like Diana Ross when she sang in the shower.
When I worked with John Densmore, the “Doors” drummer, and he reminisced about “Jim,” he was telling an anecdote about his fellow band mate, Jim Morrison, and how hard it was to control him and work with him.
When Prince Andrew referred to “Mummy,” well, we all know who he was talking about and the black cloud that is following him around.
In order to stay grounded in my work, I view a celebrity, not how he or she appears on the stage or screen, but rather as a human being
with strengths and frailties not unlike my own. I make sure to look them straight in the eye to show them I’m not intimidated or competitive. I don’t think about how I can benefit from the work we are about to do. Here’s the important part: I consider what I can offer them, how I can bring love and healing into the space as they search their subconscious minds to reveal the stories they’ve hidden away. No matter how strident their attitude may look, every human being needs love and I make sure they understand that I’m not a threat.
I’m a fellow traveler doing my job as I listen and gently ask the hard
questions to make their memoir interesting. Being compassionate in my work allows me to know when to dig deep and when to back off. It helps me climb on the raft and maneuver the rapids with someone instead of swimming beside them and trying not to drown.
The key here is how leading with love and compassion allows people to trust me with their intimate stories. I have to keep showing them I am not a threat. That I am not swayed by their public personas so it’s safe for them to show me who they truly are and what they have gone through to make them the person they have become.
Being loving and compassionate, listening as a witness, not a judge, is a way I try to live my life, day to day. I want to make my friends
feel at ease so instead of having to defend themselves, they can open up and be real. They can tell the truth and not feel ashamed of themselves. Everyone wants to be heard and understood and that’s something I can offer if I can keep myself in the right head space.
Of course there are exceptions. I’m not about to strike up a
conversation with someone who talks incessantly, doesn’t listen and I can never get a word in. That’s a monologue, not a dialogue and they might as well be talking into a mirror. It’d be better to walk away in these cases, but more often, people are feeling as tentative as I am. They want a place to feel safe, an ear to listen to them and the sense that I’m genuinely interested in what they’re talking about.
If you can remember to receive what someone is telling you, if you listen with kindness and real interest instead of thinking about what you want to say next, judgments will dissolve, relationships will become smoother, work will go easier and you’ll feel better at the end of a day. Relationships of all kinds require give and take, hearing and caring, a peaceful atmosphere to relax into and an open heart. Take off the black robes. Put down the gavel. Listen as a witness, not a judge, and the rest will take care of itself.
Spiritual guide, Stephen Levine, said, “What the world really needs are good receivers.”