Friday, November 21, 2008

I Don't Judge People

I don't judge people.

yah....riiiiiight ;)

I think we all wish we could be capable of saying that statement. But nobody I know is. Including myself. It is a constant struggle within all of us. We dislike being judged by others. It often feels unfair and we know it is unfair to judge others. So why can't we stop? Why do we continually find ourselves judging others? While at the same time we complain about being judged ourselves?

I see many reasons within myself that may be common to others as well...

1. Sometimes we don't realize we are judging others. The other day I was talking with my children about how it would be better if people who owned big companies would share their money more and pay their employees more money. I was judging their choices in how they run their business. A few days later my son started telling me how movie stars should not live in such big houses. I recognized the "judging" then and also realized where he had learned it from. So we decided to do a little practice in understanding. We started with the premise that not all move stars are hoarding their money. Many are very generous with it. We talked about how if you are famous it would be hard to actually be able to attend a gym or go to a public pool and how it might actually be more necessary to have one in your home. I shared my experience living in a protected community overseas - how we had all the luxury items we needed, but we still felt a bit imprisoned at times. My son and I led ourselves through the spectrum...from judging to compassion. And I was reminded - just because it seems like "fair game" does not mean that it is. Even famous people and Hollywood stars have a right to be understood and not judged.

2. Everyone is doing it. Have you watched the news lately? Back in the "old days" when I studied journalism at Northwestern there was a mantra of "objectivity". That seems to have changed a lot since I was in college. Now, it seems, every news station has an opinion and a lot of the newscasting is spent judging a person's actions, The presidential election was a great example. It became so commonplace to judge the candidates that we all started doing it: "He should not have said that", "why did he do that?" etc...etc...It is hard to get a perspective on judging others when you are surrounded by television, media and other people who are doing it. Without even realizing it we become used to the "culture of judging" and have a hard time realizing we are even doing it anymore.

3. We have a need to validate ourselves. One of the most common reason I see for people judging others is that they feel more validated themselves by saying it. So by saying "My neighbor is making really bad parenting decisions" we can make ourselves feel like better parents. By saying, "why does she eat that junk food?" we make ourselves feel like we are eating better food.

Every time we are questioning someone else's behaviour we are judging them. It is hard to stop. I know. I am stopping myself quite frequently and then, after I stop myself I think, "wow, why does my mind keep doing this?"

The short answer is "because our minds are programmed to do this". However, there are practices you can create in your own life to reduce the frequency of the times you find yourself judging others. If you have any practices you use please post them to the comments section and share with others. Here are some of the things that I do:

1. Realize that I am not objective. We often think we are being objective or fair in our judgment. We say things and assume that because we are being "objective" or "fair" that it is OK to judge. When we really take a look at how nonobjective we are we tend to judge people less. I will give you an example from my own life...

Last week I was busy all day packing things for charity and spending time on the phone coordinating pick-ups, etc...I don't always do this so it was unusual for me to spend 100% of my time in giving-mode. Later in the day I asked my roommate to do me a favor that would have taken ten minutes. When they refused I felt upset and I asked them (in a judging manner) 'Why don't you feel you have ten minutes to help out?" Later, upon apologizing and discussing it I realized that on any other day of the week I would not have thought twice about it but because I had spent all day in "giving mode", someone who didn't want to give ten minutes seemed very stingy to me that day! Realizing I over-reacted because of my own circumstances that day was helpful.

2. Realize that I am not qualified. We often make the mistake of thinking we are "qualified" to judge others. You would think that people like single mothers would understand each other and stick together or that people who lost their jobs would understand each other and stick together, etc..However, it constantly amazes me that it is those that are LIKE US in some way that we judge the most harshly. My favorite example is the "sleep scenario". We have all experienced this at some time, especially if we are the primary caregiver.

Someone will approach us (husband, coworker, etc..) and will complain that they didn't get enough sleep. Logically, they are thinking we might have some sympathy for them or they are seeking compassion. It is more likely they will get a glare from us as we quietly (or not) think to ourselves "geesh...I survived the past five years with a toddler and baby on no sleep...and YOU are complaining about not getting one night of sleep?" It took me a few years to realize that there are actually some people who need more sleep than I do - LOL! I can be "tired" and not get enough sleep but it does not effect me as deeply as it does other people. It is not healthy for me and I try to avoid skimping on sleep, but if it does happen I can still make it through the day and function pretty well and get beyond it. However, there are actually people who cannot function at all, feel ill, become disoriented and have major health problems if they miss out on just one hour of sleep. Some people even develop sleep apnea.

So...realizing that I am not really qualified to judge someone else helped me to be more compassionate when someone complained, for example, about not getting enough sleep.

Then I started to realize how unqualified I was on many other fronts as well. Just because I was a single mom didn't mean that I had the same experience that everyone else did. Just because I was divorced did not mean that I had the same experience that someone else did in their divorce...the list can go on and on.

So any time you find yourself saying "Well I did that! Why can't they deal with it?" - stop and think...did you really do that? Look at their life exactly as it is...the number of kids they have, their childhood and life history, their education, their experience in the work force, their age, their past traumas, their current financial situation, how much help they get from friends, how many friends they have, your situation REALLY similar to theirs or does it just appear that way?

3. I don't have all the information. This is the biggest thing missing when we judge people. We judge them based on the information we have. But what about the information we don't have? Here are some examples:

Perhaps you are wondering why "Dolly" is going to the movies so often but she does not have enough money to feed her children? Perhaps you don't know that she received a gift book of movie tickets from her aunt.

Perhaps you are wondering why someone is spending time going out when they didn't yet return your phone call. Perhaps they didn't have any time to spend with their family that week and they are putting their family first (as they should...he he he I am judging here).

Perhaps you are wondering why someone didn't respond to your e-mail. Perhaps they had an illness or the e-mail never arrived.

I try to make an effort before I judge or get upset, to get all of the information. When my kids appear to be doing something "wrong" I ask them about it first:

"What is happening? Tell me about it."

When someone upsets me or makes me angry I ask about what they said first,

"Can you repeat what you said or explain it to me? I understood ____________ and want to make sure I understand correctly."

When someone ignores me, does not answer e-mails or phone messages I first of all realize that they may be very overwhelmed or busy but I also send them a note saying , "Hi...I am in no hurry...but I just wanted to make sure you got my message?"

4. We do not have that person's world view. I have a "friend" who often "takes advantage of people" - at least from my world viewpoint she does. However, after years of knowing her I have come to realize that she does not realize what she is doing. She is following the examples that she was raised with and thinks that these are acceptable ways to deal with people. In fact, she has an entire circle of friends that function in the same way. I do not agree and thus our friendship has become more of an aquaintance. However, at the same time I don't go out of my way to talk about her to others or to judge her and make an issue about it. I just choose to see that her view of the world is different and for some mysterious reason that works in "her world". Sometimes we get angry or talk about people or judge them harshly because we percieve them doing "bad" things on purpose. However, sometimes they are just being themselves and that is the way they are. So one step in helping us reach a more compassionate place is to realize that not everything that is done is "personally against us" or "done with awareness". It is a lot easier for me to feel compassion for someone when I realize that what they are doing is part of who they are and it is what makes their contribution to this earth different than mine. I may not agree and I may not "get it" but I am certainly not qualified to judge if their contribution is less valuable than mine.

5. There are two sides to every issue. I used to get upset with a friend of mine who was starting his own business because it seemed like he was playing a lot and not really taking it seriously. I felt he was just "goofing off'. Then when he complained about not having work I was not very sympathetic. Months later I realized that his business skills were just different than mine. While I have a lot of energy and am able to provide people with information and inspiration very quickly and on a regular basis - sometimes my work may have spelling or grammar errors or a video clip may have a blip in in. People who appreciate the other unique qualities in my work and the low prices don't mind. However, there are other people who would appreciate my friend's skills more. His skill is one of meticulousness. He has 100 ideas and many of them may never see the light of day (which still makes me sad) but when one of those ideas comes to light it is done with such perfection that people enjoy, not only his work, but the smooth and professional quality it has. This is a perfect example of where I judged someone way too harshly. In reality they could have come back and judged my inspired, budget-wise and energetic way of working as "sloppy".

This brings me to the last point...

6. Change the words we use. My friend is not slow and lazy in his work he is METICULOUS and CAREFUL. I am not sloppy and careless. I am INSPIRED and FOCUSED ON COMMUNICATION and HELPING and being there for people when they need me instead of making them wait for weeks. I also don't have enough money to hire an editor and would have to double or triple my prices if I did. My daughter is not SPOILED - she simply knows what she wants and knows how to ask for it. My son is not BORING he simply has the skill to focus on one activity (rather than a lot of them) for a long period of time. We could go on and on...but the point is, when we choose to see the positive side of what someone is doing rather than the negative side, it helps us relate better. For there IS a positive side to everything. If we can teach ourselves to focus on that we can also understand better what each person's skills are and what they can contribute to our lives.

I look forward to hearing ways in which you are all dealing with this same issue.

My goal is to have more compassion and less "judging". I have experienced people judging me harshly so many times. I know how badly it feels. Since I am in the public eye and so much information is online about me, people often think they have enough information to say, "Wow! Why did she do (or say) THAT???" My wish is that people would write to me and say "why" if they have a problem instead of assuming they know why or thinking something bad. I am a good person with good intentions and make great efforts to do what I think is best for everyone in every action I take.

The more we see this in the rest of the world, the more compassionate we can be towards everyone.

Blessings & Health,


Leilani said...

Ah yes, judgment. Great topic, great post. I have come to accept judgment as a necessary part of life. When used properly judgment can lead to deep contemplation about one's self & life, what we want out of it, what is truly important to us and ultimately lead to acceptance of one's self & others. When we do it on a superficial level however (which usually means we do not like some aspect about ourselves or not want to deal with that we make ourselves feel superior to others) we become stuck, negative...focused on the wrong things in life. Yet, when people judge us heavily, it builds some great character. And even though I am quick to judge like every other human on this planet, I step back and take a moment to contemplate what I agree/disagree with it and ultimately accept it is not my path to walk.
Without judgment, we would have not much to learn about ourselves and others, and probably not much use for this lifetime anymore. :)

Kristie Karima Burns, MH, ND said...

Lelani! That is so well said. That was actually going to be the topic of my next post but you said it so much better (and saved me the time as well ;). It really is such a complex topic and so interesting how we need it and yet the power of judging can also be abused...