Most of the time judgments are helpful. We evolved to make them. In prehistory they increased our chances of survival, and still do. (We have to make judgments to cross a road.) There is, however, a difference between judging people and being judgmental:
(A) ‘He’s a homeless person who I probably can’t trust implicitly.’
(This observation might be right or wrong, but it’s made to help the speaker make a decision.)
(B) ‘He’s a homeless person who is probably an alcoholic or mentally ill.’
(This observation might be right or wrong, but it’s spoken to edify.)
(C) ’He’s a homeless person, which means he’s a loser.’
This observation is the judgmental one.
Being judgmental is natural. As infants we absorb information, sponge-like, and grow up clinging to ideas about how things should be, so it’s understandable that when someone behaves contrary to our expectations we might be disconcerted and look at them askance. But the insecure among us (and almost all of us are insecure in some way) might be judgmental because it can give us comfort and certainty. For example, some of us:
1) are judgmental of others because we want to argue with our own inner voice telling us we ourselves have unacceptable flaws.
However, when we perceive people to be inferior to us it reinforces our belief that we ourselves are flawed, because when we judge people we are also judging ourselves with the same criteria. We then spend energy trying to assure ourselves that we are okay, that we ‘pass.’ But that won’t work. Only when we let go of our judgments of others can we begin to feel less pressure on ourselves to be worthy.
‘When you judge someone what you are really trying to do is find a way of saying “I’m better than you”, even if it is a silent, internal conversation. You gain nothing of any value by thinking you are better than someone else – only a momentary ego boost, a false sense of pride or support for a racial, moral or social stereotype, which are all best avoided.’
Domonique Bertolucci, ‘The Happiness Code’.
2) Some of us place people into easy-to-criticise categories, because it’s convenient. It saves us the trouble of thinking.
But we may come to fear the people we judge because we have distanced ourselves from them; we have severed our connection with them. And, because our prejudices are simplistic and inaccurate, we have to keep fooling ourselves to maintain our position. We have to persist with our bigotry and remain close-minded, lest our belief systems crumble and the abyss yawns.
3) Some of us are judgmental because we have been taught bigoted views in childhood, and those views feel right and comfortable.
However, those imprinted beliefs are disabling because they’re inaccurate. They give us a distorted view of the world and that can limit us. Although our beliefs feel right and true, to someone who has not been similarly imprinted we can look like a goose.
4) Some of us judge others because we want the approval of our friends.
But when we strengthen our connection with judgmental friends we diminish our connection with humanity. So, in the long run we lose. And, if our friends are judgmental, you can bet they will be judgmental of us when we step out of line.
5) Some of us are judgmental because we want to create a picture of how the world should be. By knowing what to expect, we gain a feeling of control, and feel a little safer.
But judgments are often wrong and expectations are rarely met. So the ‘safe’ world becomes unpredictable, and not so safe. Anxiety results.
In short, the quick assumptions we make allow us to think our lives are running smoothly. And, on the surface at least, our judgments of others can help us feel good about ourselves. Judgments provide certainty, and with that certainty we evade anxiety.
The thing is, resilience comes not from evading anxiety, but from experiencing scary situations and discovering we can handle them. So, instead of making quick and easy judgments to help us feel comfortable, we need instead to embrace the uncertainty that comes from not making judgments. It’s then we discover we can handle uncertainty – we can handle life.
Then we no longer need to make the world safe, because our resilience makes us feel safe. Our mind relaxes. We become easygoing and more accepting of others. More importantly, we become more accepting of ourselves.
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’.
Plus, by letting go of our expectations of others we feel less pressure to conform to their expectations. Anxiety evaporates.
With fewer expectations we become less influenced by society’s paradigms, so we see the world in a clearer light. That builds within us a capacity to think for ourselves.
And with that clearer vision, and with that deeper confidence, we appear perceptive, 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.
I’m not going to tell you to stop being judgmental. After all, we can’t simply ditch our judgments and replace them with a manufactured easygoing attitude. Suggesting that would be useless advice. We judge people for the compelling reasons listed above, so telling you to stop judging people is not going to work.
So, what do we do?
We can allow ourselves to judge people, but deal with our judgment.
(1) We can become easygoing so that we don’t feel the need to make judgments. We can employ Edward de Bono’s shrug, for instance.
(2) We can learn to let go of our judgments. Steps below.
‘The art of living in two words: letting go . . . It’s letting go of our judgments, our expectations, of wanting to be right, of wanting to control, of wanting things to turn out exactly as we’d like them to turn out, of wanting people to act a certain way . . . It’s recognising the tightness that stems from our desire for things to be a certain way . . .
It’s noticing when we are holding these thoughts, and letting go. Loosening our heart’s grip on any of these, and letting go. And then letting go again. And again . . .
And so the art of living is a practice, one that doesn’t end, that doesn’t have a mastery level. It’s a constant letting go, a constant picking up again, and then letting go again.’
Edited excerpts from articles by Leo Babauta in his blog, ‘Zen Habits’.
Letting go of our judgments
Step 1. Notice your judgment, even if your judgment is a sound, astute observation. 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.’
’He is so arrogant . . . wait, I’m judging.’
Don’t criticise yourself for being judgmental. Your job is to notice when you do it.
Also, 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.’
Step 2: Remind yourself that your judgments say a lot about your insecurities, and that they’re disabling you.
(1) We can become inflexible. When we can’t change, we can’t grow.
(2) When we get good at judging others we get good at judging ourselves. So, we might mistake our compassion for weakness, or see nastiness in ourselves instead of our fear. Worse, we can end up wondering if we meet the standards of the people we like and respect.
(3) When we judge people we sever our connection with them, and we might come to fear them. We also satisfy less our deep need to belong.
(4) By holding prejudices we can look like a goose.
(5) We fail to see the subtleties of people. We might, for example, judge a person to be arrogant, and fail to see the insecurities behind their behaviour. So, instead of seeing people, we see shadows, and condemn ourselves to living in a two dimensional world from which we get little satisfaction.
(6) We can make foolish decisions. How many employers have missed out on good workers because of the prejudices they hold?
(7) When we are judgmental it means we will have more ‘shoulds’ that can be violated. That means we are less likely to be easygoing and relaxed.
(8) The ‘certainty’ our judgments provide will increase our anxiety, not lower it. Only when we can embrace uncertainty can we develop the feeling that we can handle life.
Being judgmental limits considerably how we understand the world, how we understand the people we know, and how we understand ourselves.
Step 3. Lastly, let your judgment drift away. Let it evaporate. Get on with the business of living.
‘Ah, I’m being judgmental. That’s fine, but I will let it go.’
‘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.’
If you feel the need to ask someone to pick up their litter, do it, but if you find yourself judging them as well, let that judgment drift away. If someone is in a pool of vomit, assist them. If someone is acting weirdly, shrug. If someone acts inappropriately, speak with them. In each case, if you make a judgment as well, let it drift away. Don’t feed it. Don’t hold onto it. Mentally shrug and move on. It is not serving you.
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 trivial. By giving them no importance we come to realise we don’t need them, and we become less reliant on them to feel better about ourselves. Result: we become less judgmental of others and of ourselves. And so, we treat others, and ourselves, better.
In short, let’s be in the habit of noticing our judgments and letting them drift away.
Bonus step: Afterwards, you might want to reflect.
– What ‘should’ have I adopted that prompted me to be judgmental in that instance?
– From where did I get that ‘should’?
– What is in the mind of the person I’m judging? Are they suffering? Do they value things differently? Have they had experiences I haven’t?
– In what way do I benefit from being judgmental of that person?
Q. ‘You’re suggesting I chill out and become easygoing. But I’m an activist. If I became easygoing I would lose my drive to get things done.’
On the contrary, if you develop the ability to become easygoing you can choose your battles wisely and focus your energies on your projects.
Q. ‘Mark, are you judgmental?’
Yep. I was taught to eat with my mouth closed, to cover my mouth when I yawn, to withhold a burp, to not litter . . . and when I see people not complying with those customs I feel judgmental. I’m judgmental about all sorts of things. The important thing is, I notice them and let them drift away.
I’m a lot less judgmental than I used to be.