Now, I’m not going to pretend I don’t ever judge other people — I think it’s either a built-in method all humans have, or something we develop because of built-in methods. We all judge people and I’m not an exception. I usually judge people when I assume and when I do not know the real or the whole story. But I’ve gotten better at noticing when it happens, and recognizing that it’s a sign of something harmful.
The judging itself isn’t bad. It’s what the judging is a symptom of that’s harmful. What underlying harmful causes/situations are indicated by my judging people? Well, here are a few:
- I am very ignorant of what the person is going through.
- I don’t understand the situation.
- I have unrealistic expectations of people.
- I think I’m superior to other people.
- I’m not grateful.
- I’m being self-centered.
- I’m not being curious, but instead I close off all learning.
- I can’t really help the situation from a place of judgment.
How That Happens, let’s take a fake but typical example so I can show you what I mean:
I see a mother who is giving her toddler an x-large coke and the worst part smoking in front on the toddler, she is overweight and her toddler is also heading in that same direction. I know she can make her and her toddlers health better by changing their eating and smoking habits. I judge her for what she’s doing, think badly of her, get frustrated with her, dismiss her because she’s not worthy of my frustration. This kind of thing happens with me and lots of other people all the time — just change the details to spouse, co-worker, kid, friend and instead of unhealthy things, they’re doing something else you don’t like.
What’s going on in this example? Well, first, I’m ignorant of what she’s going through and I don’t understand the situation. She feels upset due to her weight, because of these bad feelings, she doesn't like to think about health, and makes herself feel better through smoking and comfort food. She’s just trying to be happy. And in fact, I do the similar kinds of things all the time when I am unhappy, I comfort myself. So I’m not superior, even if I think I am.
What’s more, I’m not being grateful for the great person she is. She’s wonderful. By focusing on judging her, I’m not appreciating that. Instead, I’m being self-centered by focusing on how much better I am, how she’s frustrating me, how my frustration is more important than any pain she’s feeling. I’m not being curious about whom she is what she’s going through and why … instead I have made a judgment and that stops all inquiry. And from this place of judgment, I can’t help because I have closed off dialog, and have written her off.
You can see how all of these things are harmful. They make me frustrated and unhappy, they harm my relationship with this lovely person, they stop communication and learning, they don’t allow me to help alleviate suffering, and they close me off to what she has to offer me.
How to Rise Above Judging
First be aware that you’re doing it, and see it as a red flag. It’s not horrible to judge, but it’s a good sign that other things are going on that are harming you and others. This takes practice. But there are symptoms that tell you you’re judging — if you feel angry or frustrated or dismissive of someone. If you’re complaining about someone, or gossiping about them. These are signs you’re judging. Recognize what’s going on.
- Why are you judging?
- What expectations do you have that are unrealistic?
- What can you guess about what the other person is really going through?
- What about the other person can you appreciate?
- Can you get out of your self-centeredness and put yourself in the other person’s shoes?
- Can you imagine a time when you were going through something similar?
But you can’t help them from a place of judgment. Only when you let go of the judgment that has arisen, and come to a place of acceptance and curiosity and empathy, can you really help. And incidentally, you’ll be a lot happier in the process. So rise above it!