I’m taking a course right now – more on this soon – and a recent topic really resonated with me. It was about releasing judgment, refraining from criticising other people either explicitly or implicitly, and accepting who they are just as you should accept who you are.
How do you feel when someone judges you for your opinions, your actions? How do you feel when you’re trying to share your plans with someone and they counter with “Why would you want to do that?” When you share your own experience on a topic and you’re interrupted and ‘corrected’? When someone posts a status update on Facebook that directly takes a dig at your lifestyle? Most of us in these situations will feel the visceral emotions of guilt or shame. Such negative emotions are so strong that they bypass our cognitive pathways so that we don’t have time to think about what the situation really means and how we might react more rationally.
If you take a moment to reflect, however, we realise that judgment and criticism is about the person giving it out, not about us as the recipient. There was some truth in that classic reassurance that your mum gave you when you were teased at school: they’re just jealous, they’re just unhappy with their own lives! Judgment is really a form of comparison and usually stems from that person’s own insecurities and unfulfilled desires, in turn a result of their particular upbringing, their set of beliefs and value systems. They are voicing their personal fears, their indignation that someone has the audacity to do whatever it is they would never do.
Why do we really judge other people? Why do we sneer at other people’s beliefs, look down on their misguided choices, feel sorry for them for not knowing any better? I think it’s about wanting to belong, wanting to be reassured that we are making the right choices, wanting to tell ourselves that it’s the others who are wrong. So whether it’s a question of religion or diet, career path or family choices, we cling to our own way of life and point fingers at any outliers.
Of course, there’s a more generous interpretation, which is that we want to help our fellow man: we’ve discovered the true path and we want to help them see the light. How many times haven’t we wanted to convince our friends that this new diet is the way to go, or tell them that they should quit their job, or encourage them to break up from a dysfunctional relationship? Those may or may not be the right paths for them but that’s not the point; the choice is theirs and theirs alone. Even well meaning advice is a form of judgment: we’re judging them on our own personal scale of good and bad, right and wrong, black and white.
So how can we go about releasing judgment? Well the first step has to be self-awareness, recognition that we are looking critically at the other person based on a particular set of assumptions and beliefs; recognising that if we truly want to help a friend or family member then making them feel bad about themselves might not be the best way to go about it… Then we can take a step back and ask ourselves: why do we feel so strongly about this situation, why is it so important that the other person takes our advice and makes whatever change we’re pushing them towards, why do we need to broadcast our views in the knowledge that people will be hurt? Do we really care so much about them, or is this about some concern we have in our own lives? If we can acknowledge and appreciate our own values, our own choices, our own journey, then we can be open to giving other people the right to do so as well.
And on the receiving end of judgment, what can we do? Care less about what other people think – but that’s easier said than done, right? What we can do is take a deep breath and remind ourselves that it’s not about us, it’s about them. And maybe their unease can even reassure us that we’re onto something exciting, something that has the potential to be truly game changing.
It’s a wonderful thing, talking to someone who’s so completely happy with their own life choices that they are without any judgment of ours. We relax, we settle into the conversation and open up about our innermost thoughts, we feel we can trust the other person and enter into a partnership of equals, two people on this earth simply doing the best they can to live their lives, learning and growing as they go. Why not try it some time?