We do it without even noticing. We see a homeless beggar on the street, and a flurry of judgments comes to mind: That person is probably too lazy to get a job. They’re likely a drug addict. They’re crazy and they’re dirty. We don’t even know that person’s story! We don’t have an iota of information, yet the voice of judgment rings loud in our heads leading us to snap judgments, stereotypes or assumptions.
How about the times people have made unfair judgments about you? Maybe you made a simple mistake, and someone assumed you were absent-minded. Or perhaps they assume your political beliefs based on your gender, race, or how you were brought up.
If we know it hurts when it’s done to us, why do we continue to judge other people in the same way? It’s quite the phenomenon! Instead of building a connection based in love and understanding, it is human nature to believe others are different from us. We spend much of our lives pushing people away as a result.
If we are to make any sense of this, we must look at what judgment really means, why we do it, and how we can start to judge less and love more.
A judgment is the sum of our thoughts, feelings, and observations. Our brain is forced to make tons of judgments every day; some good, some bad, and some neutral. When we’re driving, we have to assess if it is safe to switch lanes before doing so. That’s a judgment we make – and quite a useful one at that! If we see someone helping an old lady cross the street, we might make a positive judgment about their character.
The problem with judging people is that we reduce them down to a handful of characteristics – completely ignoring the fact that people are complex, three-dimensional beings with many different sides. For instance, we may judge someone based on their upbringing. By mentally labeling someone as spoiled, we dismiss the notion that they can sometimes be selfless and sharing. After a moment’s observation, we tend to think we’ve got someone figured out for the most part, and we don’t leave much room to be proven otherwise. In truth, we’ve no idea if the person helping the old lady across the street is a good Samaritan, or if he is in that moment stealthily robbing her blind!
Resisting the urge to judge someone doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they do. It’s ok to disagree with someone’s opinions or actions. If your boss loses their temper and starts hurling insults, it’s all right to think that they are acting inappropriately. The difference between having an opinion and judging someone, is that when you judge, you are dismissing their feelings and experiences – in essence, writing them off. So instead of seeing your boss as someone who is having a very difficult day or has struggled with controlling their anger, you see a hot-headed maniac.
The root of all judgment comes from one place and one place alone: Ego. When we see someone behaving in a way that we disagree with, we think, “I would never act like that! I’m better than that. I’m more righteous, I’m more hardworking, I’m smarter…” Putting someone else down makes us feel temporarily better about ourselves. The ego is a master magician, constantly deflecting our attention, distracting us from our own shortcomings and the work that we need to do to improve ourselves.
Let’s look at 5 ways to start judging less and loving more:
We can never fully understand someone else’s circumstance. Nor can we predict how we would react if we had to walk in their shoes. Everyone has fears, hesitations, and baggage that are not always apparent. When we judge, we are only looking at the part of someone that is visible to us. Their actions, behavior, or personality might make more sense to us if we knew what was going on underneath.
Writer Andrew Solomon said, “It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.” When we are faced with a circumstance that we don’t understand or that makes us uncomfortable, there is an opportunity for us to learn and grow. Listening to someone’s story and trying to understand where they are coming from can expand your point of view.
When we judge someone, we are focused on what we consider their negative qualities. Instead of criticizing, try looking at their positive attributes – what are they doing right, what are their best characteristics?
When someone rubs you the wrong way, there is a reason. Instead of condemning them, look at yourself and ask, “Why does this bother me so much?” Often the things we don’t like about other people are a reflection of our own issues or insecurities.
It is not our job to change other people. We can offer advice, lead by example, and inspire people, but it is up to each individual person to decide to improve their lives. Let people have room to be who they are. The things you might not like about someone may be the very things they are already working on.
Rav Berg, the founder of The Kabbalah Centre as we know it today, would often teach, “The reason there is so much chaos in this world is that one person cannot stand the other. And this is so simple! Intolerance and lack of dignity is the cause of all suffering. It is high time we take responsibility for at least removing the chaos from within us.”
If given the choice between a world where people are judged, criticized and denounced, or one where people are loved and accepted, most of us would choose the latter without question. It’s hard to remember that creating a loving, accepting world starts with us, in both our thoughts and actions. The more that we judge others, the less room we have for love.
Let’s choose together to replace judgment with understanding, compassion, and love.