“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.” ~Sri Chinmoy
Oh yeah, this has been a big one for me. Huge.
I’ve had a long, tedious journey toward recognizing that many of my thoughts were based in judgments of others. I didn’t realize it for years.
I used to think I had strong opinions, was decisive, and able to “evaluate” others. I “got” people. I understood where they were coming from, their motivations, and why they said what they said and did what they did.
I was a highly skilled definer, and an even better dismisser. Once I’d figured you out, my opinions were set in stone. I didn’t leave much room for changing those opinions either. Once I’d decided, that was it. You were what you were, according to me.
With the benefit of time and hindsight, I’ve come to realize that since I was actively embracing a life of personal growth (or “working on my stuff,” as I like to call it), I somehow felt that gave me free rein to comment on what others were doing.
I’ve also realized this is a common behavior in those of us on the personal growth path.
When we are seeking change for ourselves, we sometimes feel we can comment on (or seek change for) the lives of others—about how they should behave, about what is acceptable for them, and so on.
I had some inexplicable sense of entitlement that validated my judgmental parts in behaving this way.
This criticizing behavior was, for the most part, restricted to my thoughts. Outwardly, I was generally a pretty nice gal—helpful, polite, and funny; and I had plenty of friends who liked spending time with me.
Internally though, my thoughts could be pretty acidic. The judgmental parts of me were constantly criticizing, sizing up, dismissing, and diminishing those around me.
I slowly started to become more knowledgeable about the internal criticizers as my awareness grew and my judgments diminished in response to some other issues I was tackling.
While that was a huge relief, I started to realize just how much mental space and energy I was giving those internal judges. I was shocked to recognize just how bossy and mean they could be.
I also began to wonder how much criticism these internal judges had of me. And man, was I amazed when I started paying attention. I realized I had a pretty constant stream of internal dialogue that was just as critical of me as it was of the outside world.
That was a revelation!
This really clarified, in a new way, the idea that “the outer world is a reflection of the inner world.”
Generally, our judgment of others is an extension of self-judgment; and the self-judgment is so ingrained, so normal, we don’t even recognize it.
This was an intense experience of pulling back the curtain. It also signified the beginning of a great leap forward, in terms of transforming the critical internal dialogue, which, in turn (and in time), transformed and far diminished the judgment of others.
Here are some tools I used to transform the judgments that you may find helpful.
1. Use a pattern interrupt.
When you catch yourself having a defining thought about someone, step back and ask, “What do I really know about this person?”
Often, the answer is a version of “not very much.” This behavior acts as a pattern interrupt, and forces you to stop and consider where the judgment is coming from.
2. Switch to praise.
When you hear yourself criticizing someone to others, stop and take a moment to come up with one thing you like about that person. Then praise them, out loud, for that quality.
This is another version of a pattern interrupt, and is also a reminder that they too are human, and like us all, have both attractive and not-so-attractive qualities.
3. Look within.
When you find yourself in one of those incessant loop thought patterns of judgment about someone else's behaviors, ask the hard question: Do I myself exhibit this same behavior or attitude that I judge in this person?
Almost always, the answer is yes (not that one always comes to that yes easily). You probably already know that the stuff that irritates us the most about others tends to be attributes we don't necessarily realize we ourselves have. This was the single most difficult tool I used. It was also probably the most effective.
I am pleased to report that I have massively reduced the judgmental behaviors, toward others and myself. I still consider that it’s an ongoing journey, which helps me in recognizing any rogue criticisms pretty quickly.
Most importantly, I have a completely different perspective on other people than I used to.
Keeping this in mind has been helpful; if you're struggling with judgment of others, perhaps you will find it useful as well:
For us to judge another, we’d have to know everything about that person—their complete personality, their personal history, their belief systems, their culture, their religion, their family background, and all their past experiences, for starters.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that we could possibly know all of this about another person.
At that point, since we would see that person in their totality—and we would see that all the decisions that person makes, and all the experiences they are creating, are theirs to make and create as they see fit, to support their lovely, complex, ever-changing growth process—there’d be nothing to judge.
So since we can't possibly know all those things about another, let’s just skip right up to the “nothing to judge” part, okay?
It’s a deal.
Photo by just_a_name_thingie