Our intolerance of others is largely influenced by the filters we use to perceive them. Regrettably, a distorted lens composed of one’s prejudices obscures our interaction with people. We are absorbed in our own reality that to walk a mile in another person’s shoes comes at the expense of judging them. Judging others signifies a lack of self-acceptance, because we tend to be at war with ourselves. To appease our pain, we cast aspersions to feel good about ourselves.
Consider the following tale by the novelist Paulo Coelho that depicts this sentiment: 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.”
Judging can become entrenched in our psyche to the point where we are 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. Judging others can perpetuate 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 it.
At its core, judging others reflects our narrow assessment of ourselves. We often 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 towards them, we become curious and note where the judgement arises. What could it be advising us? Conceivably, underneath every judgement is the need for self-love, self-acceptance and validation.
We are seldom justified to judge others because we don’t know their deeper values, beliefs and outlook. Whilst we might disagree on their life choices, we are bystanders exposed to a facet of their being. Instead of judging them, we might want to contemplate the consequences of their actions instead. This is likely to reveal a deeper layer to their motivation instead of skimming the surface. Therefore, I invite you to see others through the eyes of compassion, since your judgement of them serves nobody.
I am drawn to a quote by the Dalai Lama’s which captures this attitude: “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 of 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. This is why mindfulness allows us to witness our thoughts before acting on them and reframe our self-talk by investigating our inner dialogue. How about you? Do you find yourself judging others who are different to you? This is not about casting blame but noticing unconscious thought habits that bypass our attention.
It is better to label our thoughts when we notice ourselves judging others by following the self-sabotaging thoughts. I use an inner mantra when I catch myself unconsciously judging by silently affirming 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 our body when we are judging people. We spend a great deal of our time engaged in our thoughts, while at the mercy of believing them. Therefore, we learn to breathe into our body and become mindful of the sensations. What does judgement feel like? Where is it located in your body? Move towards it instead of running away from the emotion, which is what many people do.
Emotionally resilient people don’t judge others because they recognise it is futile to judge what they know little about. Instead, they focus on channelling their strengths into causes than reinforce their character rather than feed their weaknesses. It is vital we heal our pain and resolve the wounds of our past, otherwise they become recycled later down the road. To condemn others perpetuates a fear-based mindset and deflects having to look deeper into ourselves.
Knowing this, the next time you find yourself judging another person, stop and think, “Isn’t that interesting?” Try observing them through a lens of neutrality instead of condemnation and note how you feel. As the opening tale 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.