One of the most incredible changes I’ve made in my life, which has undoubtedly made me a happier person and a better friend, is learning to let go of judging people.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I don’t ever judge others – we all have a tendency to do so by default… it’s a human instinct, and I’m not the exception. But I have learned to catch myself, and to recognize how judging is harmful.
Notice I say “harmful” instead of “bad,” because instead of judging myself, I’d rather observe that the act of judging causes harm.
What underlying harmful conditions are indicated by my tendency to judge people? It varies, but in many cases these points apply…
I don’t know everyone’s full story and I’m therefore ignorant of what most people are going through.
I have unrealistic and unjustified expectations of people.
I subconsciously believe that I’m somehow better than the people I’m judging.
I’m being a bit self-absorbed and egotistical.
I’ve lost sight of being grateful for my own blessings and compassionate to those who aren’t as fortunate.
I’m not being curious or willing to learn, but instead I’m judging and rejecting people who are different than me.
I can’t possibly help the present situation from a place of judgment.
How Judging Someone Transpires
Let me give you a personal example of how judging someone plays out so we can see how the harmful conditions above transpire:
I visit an old friend who is actively neglecting his own health – he is overweight and has extremely high blood pressure, and yet he eats junk food every day and never exercises. I know he can improve his health by changing his daily decisions. So I judge him for what he’s doing, get irritated with him, indirectly insult him with my opinionated commentary, and then dismiss him when our conversation turns sour. This kind of situation occurs all the time in relationships all around the world – just tweak the details a little and then substitute my old friend for someone’s husband, wife, father, mother, colleague, friend, etc.
Now, lets take a closer look at what’s really going on in my situation…
First of all, I’m a bit ignorant of what my old friend is going through, as I don’t fully understand his point of view. The truth is, he has been deeply depressed about his poor health, feeling ugly, unwanted, scared, and untrusting of himself to make better decisions. Because of his depression, he desperately tries to avoid thinking about anything related to his health, and therefore makes himself feel better through snack food, binge-watching TV shows, and other unhealthy distractions. He’s just trying to cope. And in fact, I have done similar things many times in the past… I have failed. I have dealt with hardship. I have felt depressed. And I have comforted myself in unhealthy ways. So I’m not really any better than him, even if I believe I am.
What’s more, I’m being ungrateful for the amazing human being he is, despite his health issues. He truly is wonderful – which is precisely why I’m friends with him – but by judging him, I’m not appreciating him at all. Instead, I’m being self-absorbed by focusing on how much “better” I am, how I think he “should” be, how he’s irritating me, how my irritation is more important than all the pain he’s feeling inside. I’m not being curious about what’s really happening in his heart and mind, and what he’s going through and why. Instead, I have simply judged him. And from this position of close-minded judgment, I can’t help because I have stopped communicating effectively, and have dismissed him as unworthy of my effort.
How to Stop Judging Once You Start
First and foremost, you must bring awareness to the fact that you’re doing it. Doing so takes practice, but there are two crystal-clear signs of judging to look for in yourself:
You feel irritated, annoyed, angry or dismissive of someone
You’re complaining or gossiping about someone
After you catch yourself judging, pause and take a deep breath. Don’t berate yourself, but simply ask yourself a few questions:
Why are you judging this person right now?
What unnecessary or idealistic expectations do you have of this person?
Can you put yourself in this person’s shoes?
What might this person be going through?
Can you learn more about their story?
What’s something you can appreciate about this person right now?
Once you’ve done that, offer your kindness and compassion. Perhaps they just need someone to hear them, someone to not judge them, someone to not control them, someone to be present without an agenda…
But in any case, remind yourself that you can’t help them at all from a position of judgment. And you can’t help yourself either… because judging people is stressful.
Mantras to Stop You from Judging
Since I intellectually understand everything I’ve discussed above, but often forget when I’m in the heat of the moment, I’ve implemented a unique strategy to help me stop judging people. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself NOT to judge. Anytime I’m heading into a social situation where I feel the itch of judgment stirring inside me, I read the following mantras to myself before I leave the house…
1. Look within first. When two people meet, the prize always goes to the one with the most self-insight. He or she will be calmer, more confident, and more at ease with the other.
2. Don’t be lazy and make judgments about people. Be kind. Ask about their stories. Listen. Be humble. Be open. Be teachable. Be a good neighbor.
3. There is a story behind every person. There is a reason why they are the way they are. Think about that, and respect them for who they are.
4. The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion and kindness.
5. Do your best to maintain sincere love in your heart. The more you see the good in other people, the more good you will uncover in yourself.
6. Be present. Be kind. Compliment people. Magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses. This is how to make a difference.
7. We all take different roads seeking fulfillment and joy. Just because someone isn’t on your road, doesn’t mean they’re lost.
8. It’s OK to be upset. It’s never OK to be cruel. In disagreements with others, deal only with the present situation. Don’t bring up the past or any other form of drama.
9. The most memorable people in your life will be the ones who loved you when you were not very lovable. Remember this, and return the favor when you’re able.
10. No matter what happens, be good to the people around you. Being good to people is a peaceful way to live, and a beautiful legacy to leave behind.
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