Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Stop Judging Other People

Today I’m going to argue for a life of less judgment, especially of others. It’s a really strange trait, and we all do it to some extent, but I’m asserting that the less you judge others, the happier and more productive you’ll be.

It’s curious when this begins in our lives--this need to have an opinion on the goings-on of other people. In my 22-month old, I don’t yet discern any judgment of other people. He does judge food, or books or music – “Mama, turn it off” or simply “No” to an offer of a food he doesn’t want.

But somewhere along the line, we begin to watch what other people do and decide to have an opinion about it. What people are wearing. What they are reading or how they are dancing. What political party they subscribe to, or what sexual orientation they possess. How they raise their children, how they decorate their living rooms. Whatever it is other people do, we decide to pass judgment.

To some extent, I think part of this impulse is rooted in the ability of discernment—in other words, being able to differentiate objects or ideas or people for qualities. After all, at some point we must decide which of something to purchase, whom we should partner with, or what ideas or faiths or philosophies will help guide us through life. I’d argue that there is such a thing as quality, too. Some items, foods or people or ideas are better for us; are higher quality or superior to others.

What happens along the way is that we begin to care whether other people choose the same things or ideas that we do. It’s a funny thing, and I can’t say I fully understand the “why” behind this impulse. My best guess is that we are insecure about our own choice, and so we need to feel that others have chosen poorly. Another reason, I think, comes from economic impact. The argument, for example, that people who smoke cost us all money. (Of course, that’s more a problem of a socialized system. I’d argue that it’s a trade-off: If you want the “system” to pay for people’s expenses, you have to accept that people will be people and do things that are expensive, especially if they are aware that they will not bear the full cost. But that’s another topic entirely.)

In any case, I will say that I think that for whatever reason we do it, it would be in our best interest to minimize it as much as possible. Even, if in the above example, you can find a direct link to another person’s actions “costing” you somehow, or otherwise affecting you directly.

The less you judge others’ choices or actions—and most especially people you don’t even know!—the more peace you’ll find for yourself.

Lately, whenever I find myself judging someone for any reason—for hairstyle, diet, different parenting style, whatever—I just say, “No skin off my nose.”

In other words, it doesn’t hurt me that they have chosen differently. Even the most charged of decisions can be handled this way: faith, politics, child-rearing. Because you should be concerned with yourself and your family, and make decisions for yourselves.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with observing someone else and wondering if they have something to offer you. Often you can benefit from learning more about what others are up to. Say your neighbors xeriscape their yard. Watch how the plants do. See if the maintenance would lower your water bills. If so, adopt what you admire, and leave the rest. If you decide it’s not for you and you think your front yard is just fine, no big deal.

The thing is, judgment is loaded with emotion. Namely fear, I think. Discernment, which is what the above process is closer to, is far less reactive and emotional, and more based in a calm and rational action. When you judge someone’s choices or behaviors, you become more distant from that person. Less kind, less forgiving, less helpful, less human. Less loving and peaceful.

Besides repeating “No skin off my nose,” something else that helps me when I’m tempted to judge is to remind myself that every single person was once a tiny, helpless baby. This is probably more powerful for parents than non-parents, but it opens my heart every single time. I remember to breathe, and I feel compassion and space for that person.

With this simple practice, I’m a far happier, more secure person. Almost no road rage. Less confusion. Greater focus. Better relationships. More patience and tolerance. After all, I think about how to take care of my own needs and wants first, and as I don’t waste as much time worrying about what everyone else is doing, I’m far more productive.

No skin off my nose. It’s such a silly saying for such a profound idea. But with practice, it begins to take hold, and once it does, you’re that much closer to bliss.


I’m curious what you do when you find yourself judging someone else, especially when you realize you’re being quite harsh. What is your internal dialogue with yourself like when you notice you’re judging?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm just now starting to realize how judgmental I am and how devastating it is on my world. I rarely outwardly share my judgments, but they are very loud in my head and I am sure my actions. Your post was helpful, although no skin off my nose feels a bit cold to me personally. I'm going to starting asking myself "why does this effect me". I just did this and the reason why I am reacting was very clear. Then the issue became about me, not about the other person, which is where all the good stuff comes from. Thanks!