Those of us who are driven tend to lean forward and try to push our projects, big or small, into fruition. And if anyone gets in our way, we sometimes judge them for it. Sometimes we might not see the consequences, for the other person or for ourselves. But those consequences are real and can be serious. That’s one good reason to figure out how to stop being judgmental.
I heard a story the other day which helped me to see how important it is to consider what it’s like for the person on the other end of a judgment.
When Jennifer was about 8 months old she was in a horrific domestic accident that completely changed her life. The physical and most visible result is that she has little control of her right leg and her right hand. It’s hard for her to walk and she can’t use her right hand to clutch anything.
As a result, she can’t walk up or down the “correct” side of stairs (the right side) because she can’t hold on with her right hand. So she has to use the “wrong” side of the stairs (the left side). And she can’t do it quickly, either.
Still, she’s intrepid. She makes it a point to live her life as fully as possible, and she walks everywhere she can.
So the other day Jennifer was walking down the left side of the stairs after riding her commuter train to work. A man was rushing up the stairs and had to go around her. He yelled at her that she was on the wrong side and that she was going to make him miss his train. Someone else saw what was happening and berated the man for his impatience and insensitivity.
But the damage was done. Jennifer struggles enough as it is to feel okay about herself, and this man didn’t make it any easier.
I don’t know where this guy was going and what could have been so important to him to have judged Jennifer this way. Maybe he was driven, maybe not. But he sure was punishing. It’s one of the pitfalls of being driven—a blindered focus on getting somewhere or achieving something that can keep us from seeing other people as people.
The Trouble With Judgment
This brings to mind Henry Longfellow’s statement: “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
And, as Ian Maclaren said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
People who are compulsive can have a very keen sense of justice—or a very skewed one. Their original intention is usually good: let’s be fair and treat people well. But sometimes we get so caught up in the rules we create that we lose track of what and who the rules were created for in the first place. The original point is lost.
And we all suffer.
Five Steps to Stop Being Judgmental
Even if we don’t like the idea of being judgmental, it’s hard not to slip into it, especially for those of us who are determined to accomplish things. Here are some keys to turning that around:
- Identify your motivation for judging. Sometimes we have good reason to be critical of what someone else is doing. Find a productive way to tell them. Or let it go. But far too often the real impetus behind judging others is to compare ourselves in order to feel better. Acknowledging this can relieve the sense of pressure to set the other person right.
- Acknowledge your own shadow, your own imperfections. Yes, that person might be doing something that’s not ideal, but if we acknowledge that we’re not always up to snuff ourselves, that can also relieve the pressure to judge.
- Admit that you don’t know the trouble they’ve seen. You don’t know what they’ve been through or what they’re going through now. Nor do you really know why they’re doing the thing you don’t like. If you did, you might feel differently. Don’t assume the other person doesn’t have struggles that would explain what they’re doing.
- Look at the impact judging has on you. It might feel better for a minute to bring down the woman next to you who has no idea how to dress, but in the long run you will end up feeling very negatively. This sort of hierarchical comparing always comes back to haunt us because someone better than us always shows up eventually.
- Look at the impact it has on the person you judge. It might seem perfectly natural to you to tell people what they’re doing wrong, but your way of communicating might be much different than that of others. Your comment might feel much differently to them then it might if someone made it to you. But even if you don’t tell the other person how bad you think they are, they can often sense it.
Plastic Bags and the Virtuous Life
Let’s see how these five steps to stop being judgemental can actually play out in life with an example–my own–as embarrassing as it may be.
I’m getting on the checkout line at the grocery store, righteously putting my re-usable bags on the belt when I notice the guy before me has no re-usable bags and is taking tons of plastic ones. “Great. Straight into the ocean and the trees,” I think to myself.
I notice that sense of perking up I can get if I compare myself favorably to someone else. I’m probably trying to make myself feel better about my own carbon footprint. I know people who are far more considerate of the earth in how they live, and it can make me feel guilty about how I live my own life.
Then. Suddenly. Oh NO! I remember that I had forgotten my own bags last week, and I had to take home lots of the dreaded plastic myself. I’ve got my own shadow here. Maybe I’m not so perfect after all.
Besides, who knows? Maybe this guy has cancer and he has a few other things on his mind. He does look pretty dejected and distracted.
I notice that even though I’m chagrined at my judgment of this man, I am relieved now that I have reason to get off my high horse. Just because someone forgets their bags once doesn’t make them Planet Enemy Number One. I don’t need to be policeman of the world or carry around resentment towards him. Life is much lighter this way.
As to my fifth key, being aware of the impact we have on others, this was a simple episode and, unless I had publicly scolded him for not bringing reusable bags, maybe my judgement wouldn’t have any impact on him.
But maybe, just maybe, having a little empathy for what this guy might be going through, being friendly rather than scowling at him, made a little difference.
That in itself would make it worth it to stop being judgmental.
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