Judging people has its disadvantages, but trying to stop judging people is a task too hard. Instead, we need to allow ourselves to judge other people but deal with our judgement. We can do that in three steps.
Step 1. Allow yourself to keep making judgments, but notice them, even if your judgments are sound, astute observations. Notice yourself saying things like,
‘He should be more . . . wait, I’m judging again. That’s interesting.’
‘She is a bitch and . . . oh, that’s a judgement, isn’t it. I’m judging her.’
Don’t criticise yourself for being judgmental. Your job is to notice when you do it, that’s all.
Notice yourself gossiping. Gossip is, after all, a form of judging. When someone’s behaviour falls outside the expectations we hold for ourselves, our values are challenged. Gossiping with a collaborator helps reinforce our values and makes us feel safe again. (And it feeds our ego.) But our own values might be skewed or rigid, in which case the last thing we need do is reinforce them.
Even if our own values are not skewed or rigid, and are of a high standard, it is still gossip. Notice it. Say to yourself, ‘I’m gossiping now. That means I’m judging.’ That way, you have given yourself the option of what to do next.
Step 2. Remind yourself of at least one of the following disadvantages of being judgmental. (You won’t remember them all, so just pick one, and keep it for the next time you are judgmental.)
When you are judgmental:
▪ You can look like a goose.
▪ You can make foolish decisions. How many employers have missed out on good workers because of the prejudices they hold?
▪ When you hold prejudices you are forced to become inflexible. You can’t change, so you can’t grow.
▪ You fail to see the subtleties of people. For example, if you judge a person as arrogant, you might fail to see their behaviour is bravado, hiding insecurities. So, instead of seeing people, you see shadows, and condemn yourself to living in a two dimensional world from which you get little satisfaction.
▪ When you get good at judging others you get good at judging yourself. You become self critical, and miss the subtleties of your own complex personality. As a consequence, you might mistake your compassion for weakness, or see nastiness in yourself instead of fear. Or misinterpret any other emotion.
▪ When you judge others you might initially feel good about yourself, because you compare favourably with the person you are judging. However, in the long run you will be wondering if you meet the standards of the people you like and respect.
Being judgmental limits considerably how we understand the world, how we understand the people we know, and how we understand ourselves.
Step 3. After judging the person, and perhaps feeling good about yourself as a consequence (and here is the key to resilience) let that judgement drift away. It’s expendable. Shrug and tell yourself,
Ah, I’m being judgmental. That’s fine, but I will let that thought go.’ Or,
‘That’s a judgement. I can do without that.’ Then let it go. Or,
‘My judgement might be right, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a judgement and I can let it go.’
‘Try to be curious about the other person’s way.’
In short, it’s okay to judge people. Judge them all you want. But:
1. Notice when you’re judging.
2. Remind yourself that your judgments say a lot about your insecurities, and they’re disabling you.
3. Make the choice to let your judgement drift away. Let it go. Let it evaporate.
When we develop the habit of consciously letting our judgments drift away, we come to realise how irrelevant judgments are to our life. We see them as inconsequential. Trivial. We might retain our judgmental view, but it matters less to us, and influences us less.
‘Why do you say it’s okay to judge people?’
By allowing ourselves to be judgmental we satisfy our innate need to be judgmental. Then, if we choose to let those judgments drift away (giving them no importance) we come to realise we don’t need them, and become less reliant on them to feel better about ourselves. Result: we become less judgmental of ourselves and of others. We treat ourselves and others better.
And, by letting go of our expectations of others we feel less pressure to conform to their expectations.
Further, we become open to the complex nuances of people’s personalities, and gain a deeper understanding of people, and of humanity. We feel connected with them, and satisfy that other important innate need: the ‘deep need to belong’.
Just as importantly, without our quick judgments we can resist society’s paradigms and stereotypes, and build a capacity to think for ourselves. So, we gain a more accurate perspective of the world, and our life runs more smoothly.
Even our image improves. Instead of looking like a dill, we appear easygoing, tolerant and mature. Someone who can be relied upon. More importantly, we don’t just appear to be that person, we become that person.
In short, let’s be in the habit of noticing our judgments, of allowing them to be, and of letting them drift away.
Q. ‘Are you judgmental, Mark?’
Yep. I was taught to eat with my mouth closed, to cover my mouth when I yawn, to not burp loudly, to not litter . . . So, when I see people not complying with those customs I feel judgmental. I make heaps of judgments, about all sorts of things. The thing is, I let them drift away.
If I feel the need to act – to ask someone not to litter – I will. But even in that instance I notice my judgment and let it drift away.
That’s the trick. If someone makes a mistake, overlook it. If someone acts weird, shrug. If someone is in a pool of vomit, assist them. If someone acts inappropriately, speak with them, and afterwards, let the judgment drift away.
‘Be generous of spirit?’
Yes. The other person might or might not benefit, but you certainly will.
(1) Think of one strong belief you have about how people should act, whether or not you think that belief is justified. Even if a judgement is justified, it’s still a judgement.
‘People who eat with their mouths open should know better.’ (Notice the ‘should’)
‘Sign-writers are scumbags.’
‘Ben is arrogant.’
(2) Think about having that belief without acting on it.
By not feeding beliefs, after a while they diminish.
So, for example, if you think someone is a fashion disaster, don’t tell the person. Don’t sneer. Don’t laugh. Don’t gossip. Keep it to yourself. By not feeding that judgement its strength on you will diminish. You benefit.
‘Even if I believe the belief is justified and accurate?’
Yes, you will benefit. This isn’t about gaining an accurate understanding of the world, it’s about reducing our need for certainty, and discovering that we can handle it.
(3) Understand why you are being judgmental.
– Is it habit?
- Is it because you were taught those judgments and you adopted them?
- Is it fear. If so, of what?
- Is it based on your beliefs about how people should act?
- In what ways do you benefit by being judgmental?
(4) Imagine yourself as the other person. What might they be feeling? And thinking? What are their hopes? Their fears?
Remind yourself of a time when you failed to meet expectations. Do you remember how you felt? Do you want them to feel the same way?
Remind yourself that everyone on the planet wants the same thing you want: to be free of suffering, and to be happy. And that we are in that little boat, in that stormy sea, and we really do owe each other that terrible loyalty.
Gosh, isn’t that the most ridiculous . .’
1. Notice it. ‘Ah, I’m being judgmental again.’
2. Remind yourself: ‘Being judgmental harms me.’
3. Let it go.
’Forget it. Let it go.’
‘She can wear what she wants.’
4. If necessary, add a little empathy:
‘I looked silly once, too, so leave it be.’
‘I’ve made fashion mistakes.’
5. Ask yourself:
‘Why am I being judgmental? In what way do I benefit? What ‘should’ have I adopted that prompts me to be judgmental?
Recommended viewing: The extraordinary Jane Elliot created the interesting ‘Blue eyes, brown eyes‘ experiment.