The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho writes:
A young couple moved into a new neighbourhood.
The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbour hanging the washing outside.
“That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”
Her husband looked on, remaining silent.
Every time her neighbour hung her washing out to dry, the young woman made the same comments.
A month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this.”
The husband replied, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”
Our intolerance of others is largely influenced by the filters we use to perceive them. Regrettably, a distorted lens composed of one’s prejudices and limitations obscures our interaction with people.
We are absorbed in our own reality, to walk a mile in another person’s shoes comes at the expense of judging them.
Judgement of others then signifies a lack of self-acceptance, because we are at war with ourselves. To appease our pain, we cast aspersions onto others to feel good.
Judging can become entrenched into our psyche so we become oblivious to it. As we make sense of the world early in life, we label and judge what we like and dislike. Moreover, the mind’s inherent negativity bias means we exercise unfavourable judgement to explain other people’s actions, much to our misfortune.
Judgement perpetuates a destructive mindset since we support this negativity when we entertain such thoughts. To overcome our criticism of people, we can be mindful of our thoughts as they arise.
Equally, self-judgement is difficult to spot because it becomes addictive and we may not be aware of doing it. At its core, judging others reflects our narrow assessment of ourselves.
“If I notice myself judging, I simply witness it and come back to the moment and to what the person facing me is experiencing. If I notice that I am transferring my own fears onto the other, I tap myself on the shoulder metaphorically and redirect my attention to what the other is feeling,” affirms psychotherapist and teacher David Richo.
We have little idea of the complexity of other people. Our judgement is often based on what we see, albeit through an ambiguous lens. There is more depth to a person than our perception of them.
Judging others offers us the opportunity to get curious. Rather than direct anger outwards, we become curious and note where the judgement arises. What could it be advising us?
Conceivably, underneath every judgement is the need for love, acceptance and validation. Unless we get to the core of the issue, we will perpetuate the same disempowering emotions.
“Judging is preventing us from understanding a new truth. Free yourself from the rules of old judgments and create the space for new understanding.” – Steve Maraboli
We seldom have any right to judge others because we are unaware of their values, beliefs and outlook. Whilst we might disagree on their life choices, we are mere bystanders exposed to a facet of their being.
Instead of judging them, contemplate the consequences of their actions. This is likely to reveal a deeper layer to their motivation instead of skimming the surface.
Thus, I invite you to see others through the eyes of compassion since your judgement of them serves nobody. I am drawn to the Dalai Lama’s quote, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
We can become aware when we judge others by observing our thoughts. Judgement has a negative felt energy and if we are attuned to it, we can meet it with openness. Therefore, mindfulness allows us to witness our thoughts before acting on them.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh states, “You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you. You listen without giving advice or passing judgment. You can say to yourself about the other person, ‘I am listening to him just because I want to relieve his suffering.’ This is called compassionate listening.”
Reframe self-talk by investigating your inner dialogue. Don’t succumb to destructive thoughts, instead confront them with truthfulness, knowing the self-constructed narrative has no authority unless you award it power.
You can label your thoughts when you notice yourself judging others. Take notice when you are judging and follow where the self-sabotaging thoughts lead you.
I use an inner mantra when I catch myself unconsciously judging others. I silently affirm to myself, “Isn’t that interesting.” The thought is neutral and does not impose my prejudices on them. Instead, I witness it through the eyes of equanimity.
Another useful approach is to move into your body. We spend a great deal of time engaged in our thoughts, while at the mercy of believing them. Breathe into your body and become mindful of your body sensations.
Exercise and movement is useful to dissipate negative emotions. I’m amazed how good I feel following a brief jog or a resistance session which disperses the cycle of habitual thoughts.
Emotionally resilient people avoid judging others because they recognise the futility of it. Instead, they focus channelling their strengths rather than feeding their weaknesses.
It is vital we heal our pain and resolve the wounds of our past.
Dr. Alex Lickerman writes in The Undefeated Mind, “For if we can approach people first and foremost not with judgment but with curiosity we’ll have taken an important step on the journey to compassion and thus to an undefeated mind.”
To condemn others perpetuates a fear-based mindset and deflects having to look deep into ourselves.
As the opening story reminds us, seeing others through a darkened lens is toxic to our emotional wellbeing.
Not only do we form a distorted view of people, we diminish our self-worth and project our unresolved emotions on them, instead of meeting them with compassion.