Seeing Everyone’s Innocence
What Happens When We Drop The Assumption that Someone Could be Different From How They Are?
I’m talking with a friend, a mohawked guy sitting in front of the brick fireplace, fire gently cracking, a young couple cuddled on the front porch under a starless sky—and my vision appears full of light. I see the people in front of me as utterly guiltless, and I feel a sense of wonder. This is what happened on a recent circling weekend: I had a string of luminescent moments where I saw and felt the innocence of humans.
There were 27 of us in the local judge’s house in Temple, Texas. For three days we sprawled out on couches and sat cross-legged on yoga blocks, staring into each other’s eyes and sharing what it was like for us to experience each moment. We were “circling”; what would happen next if we let go of all assumptions and agreed to be with whatever arose?
This discovery felt bright and new, like a child getting to play on a new playground with familiar friends. But it wasn’t sudden like a flash of lightning, it was gradual like a velvety sunrise; illumination gently and steadily lit up my mind. I would see that these people could never be anything but what they are in each moment. And in this recognition there was no judgement or expectation. I had sympathy for their path, their pain, their struggles, their blindspots, and their limits. How could it be any different? And I would see this same innocence and acceptance reflected in me—I could not be any different from who I am either. The felt experience would gently fade the same way it came in, but the feeling lingers still.
I’m sharing the idea with you because I think it highlights a way of seeing that is available for everyone. And this way of seeing feels vast, spacious, full of joy, full of acceptance, full of potential. It is beyond happy and sad. I’m finding it hard to communicate fully.
The idea that each of us is innocent does not condone actions in the world. It looks past them to the human experience underneath. The result is that instead of anger we find sadness, instead of judgement we find understanding, instead of needless suffering we find inspiration, and instead of fighting to make things different from how they are we find acceptance. Yet accepting exactly what is does not trap us. It liberates us to act with more genuine compassion. We are ironically more free to respond in ways that are more effective and more caring for ourselves and others than when we are unaccepting.
So today I invite you to look at the world through the lens of innocence, particularly when you find yourself upset at or with another human being. Most of the time we assume they could be different from how they are—they could have chosen to act more compassionately, they could have been friendlier or more considerate, they should think the way we do. Drop this for a moment and see if you can just be with them exactly as you are. And see if you can also be with yourself exactly as you are. If the result is anything like my weekend in Temple, Texas, you will be happy that you did.