I have been pondering the question, “what is it about humans that compels us to judge others”, because boy, oh boy do we judge. The minute we lay eyes on another person we, first, label and categorize them: he’s black; she’s overweight; that couple is gay, etc. Second, we make assumptions about his/her life: the guy who just stepped out of the Mercedes must be rich; that guy out alone with the baby must be giving mom a break; that homeless man must be on drugs, and so on. And, finally, we judge: that thin woman walking hand-in-hand with the overweight man must be with him for his money. How disgraceful. That exhausted mom with the 6 kids, all under the age of ten, must be a religious freak who doesn’t believe in birth control. Serves her right.
It sounds harsh to read, but we all do it to some degree, whether we like to admit it or not. We label, make assumptions and judge others. ALL. THE. TIME. And, in the era of social media, it has become easier than ever. There is an endless, continuously updating, stream of material for our judging pleasure. Not to mention, sitting behind a keyboard as a faceless moniker gives us anonymity and freedom to judge without repercussions. No one knows it’s us, so fire away! But, why do we do it? I think it’s a basic survival instinct to “size up” a stranger as a possible threat to our physical being; however, how this morphed into a way to assess threats to our moral and social well being, I have no idea. Why does someone else’s choices bare any reflection on our own lives? Why do we care so much? Does it stem from jealousy? Insecurity? Fear? All of the above?
The first step to recovery from our judgement addiction is awareness. By acknowledging that we do this, we can go out into the world armed to battle our inner demons, to question our assumptions, and ultimately our attitude toward others. There is a concept in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, pratipaksha bhavana, that essentially means “when disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) thoughts should be thought of.” So, when we find ourselves casting stones, we need to consciously stop and redirect our thoughts. That woman with the kids…true story, and I was the judge. For a brief second I began to formulate a story about her which I knew nothing about. I caught myself and instead decided maybe she needed some help, as she was clearly overwhelmed. I chose to send kindness and love instead of judgement and negativity. It’s that simple. And, the beautiful thing is, the more you do it, the easier it gets. You, in essence, retrain your brain so that those judgy thoughts become fewer and fewer and the kind thoughts become second nature.
So, as you wander the aisles of your local supermarket, or scroll through your social media feed, I encourage you to closely evaluate your reactions to the people you encounter there. Remind yourself that everyone has a story you know nothing about. And, just maybe, there is a way you can be of service to that person, if only with a kind word. Also, remind yourself that you could be on the receiving end of another’s unfounded blows. It’s the oldest aphorism in the book, but “treat others how you would like to be treated yourself”. Love more. Judge less.