When was the last time you judged someone or something based on limited information? A first impression? By something someone told you? It may have made you feel outraged or shocked. It might cause you to form an opinion in ways that are inaccurate and wastes lots of energy making sense of it or feeling that an injustice has been done. Exhausted from anger and resentment that the judgment created, it sucks energy that could be used to better purpose. The energy of judgment causes misunderstandings, false hatred, false love, and other misconceptions about people, places, things, and experiences. It closes us off from compassion and a more fulfilling life experience.
We’ve all done it, looked at someone and judged them by their clothing or their occupation for better or worse. It’s easy to take a situation out of context and create an entire story about a person without really knowing them at all. Judgment comes when we base our assumptions on things we’ve experienced before and connect it to what’s happening in that moment, effectively generalizing that experience to others that look similar on the surface. For example, if you had a difficult experience with someone who was a teacher, encountering someone new who is a teacher may trigger the same sense that you experienced with the person who was difficult, causing a wary, potentially negative judgment of the person.
Judgment is dangerous because it closes us off from really getting to know someone and opening to what they have to offer. Seeing past the external image, considering beyond what someone says about that person and experiencing him or her for ourselves is essential for greater understanding of others. People are complex and we do things for many reasons, not all of which are apparent on the outside. The motivation and intention for someone’s actions is hidden a good portion of the time, so we can never really assume the “why” after seeing the “what.”
Listen to the thoughts of others about a particular person while staying open to direct experience with that individual. Often, there is a different dynamic between you than there was with the person who had a negative or positive experience with them. People react to each other differently and depending on the roles each plays in the interaction, it changes the experience. Assumptions based on another’s experience can create a false belief about a person, experience, or circumstance.
Perception plays a huge role in judgment, for our perceptions determine our reality and the way we look at the world. One person may look at zip lining and say it’s exhilarating while another may see it as dangerous. One person may look at a book and say it was the greatest they ever read and another didn’t like it at all. One person may look at an individual’s clothes and think they have no money when they truly have a lot, they just don’t spend it on clothing. Or a person can hear a negative story about Person A told through the lens of Person B who is trying to justify their own life and assume that that individual is a bad person. Judging someone based on the opinion of one person is dangerous in that the person’s opinion may be tainted by their own motivation and emotional perspective.
Without direct experience of the person, place, or thing, all of it is an assumption. All of it is based on individual perception, and all of it is judgment in one form or another. We have decided what is true before knowing all the facts. And the cycle of discovery is arrested as a result of making that decision. It may be that we would have made a different choice than another person, handled things a different way, but it is our ego that forms judgments, thinking that we know better or that our ability to make sound decisions is greater than someone else’s.
Each of us chooses our path, our actions, and the relationships we have. Whatever is in our life was chosen by no one but ourselves, and now we must take command of the situation through choosing right action and ultimately learning through experience and from the interactions with those around us. When judgment arises toward others, we need to pay more attention to how we impact others, what is being triggered in us, as well as what can be learned from them.
“No accurate thinker will judge another person
by that which the other person's enemies say about him.”
So how do we move past these judgments?
- Stay open when hearing a story about a person and consider that every story has two sides. When hearing only one side, there is always more to know about the circumstance.
- Think about what is being triggered within you that makes you decide that the situation is positive or negative. Dig down and seek increased self-awareness through this judgment. Is there something in your personal history that makes the act feel especially heinous? Is it your need to protect? Is it anger over perceived injustice? Is it fear of getting hurt?
- Remember that no one likes to be judged. We’ve all had experiences where we were judged based on minimal or false information and had our relationships or potential relationships affected as a result. There was a phase in my life when I was going through a difficult time and withdrew rather than burdening others by talking about it. But the judgment was that I was cold and aloof. My behavior was misperceived and judged, which served to make things harder on me.
- Ask yourself who are you to judge when you don’t understand the personal history, motives, and physical, emotional, or intellectual health of the person? Unless these aspects are uncovered, you have become judge, jury, and executioner even though you don’t have enough information to make a determination of anything. Condemning a person is to condemn oneself; to judge is to welcome judgment upon yourself. By judging others you show your own nature and open yourself to judgment.
- People are dealing with more things in their lives than they share. We can never fully know what is driving a person. Opinions are comprised of perceptions filtered through very personal frameworks. Stay open and make determinations based on direct personal experience with a person, place, or thing rather than on someone else’s perception of it.
- Even with direct experience, there is the chance to misjudge someone’s intention or motivation. Judgment of others, often based on limited knowledge, carries a weighty burden. If we have a negative experience with someone, we can make the choice to avoid or limit the time spent with that person in the future. They are on a path we don’t choose to share or fully understand. And that’s fine. No judgment.
- Judgment and wishing harm to another based on that judgment/assumption creates heavy karma. Trust that the Universe takes care of it and that things happen in ways we don’t fully understand. We don’t have all the information we need to make an accurate determination. And it is not up to us to judge or determine another’s path or experience. We choose to engage with that person/experience/thing or not. That is all.
- Unless we are perfect ourselves, then we have no room to judge others. Allow each person the freedom to make their own choices, experience their own mistakes, and live their lives in ways they want to whether or not we agree with those choices. Life for some is hard enough without carrying the extra weight of judgment from others and without carrying the dense, negativity that comes to our own life when we judge others.
- Yes, there are horrifying behaviors in the world. Yes, they can result in harm of nature, of animals and of humans. We judge based on how these situations make us feel. While we are disturbed and appalled by the results of these actions, there may be mental illness, belief systems we don’t understand, or other extenuating circumstances. The judgment may come as a result of having a strong sense of right and wrong. It’s tragic to see others suffer, and if there was a way to heal all of the suffering in the world, that would be glorious. But it has always been that suffering and injustice are part of life.To address the transgression, there are courts to deliver justice in accordance with the law. For the victims, there are organizations we can join or make financial contributions to in order to assist them and provide care. In some cases, we judge and criticize how these organizations or courts handle the issues without a full understanding of what is involved. We may have a good understanding of the issues and still err in our judgment. No one and nothing is perfect. [Think the movie “The Star Chamber.” – *See description at the end of the article.]We don’t have to agree with what was done. We have a personal reaction regarding one atrocity or another. We can choose to judge it and simmer in outrage, we can accept that we’ve only been exposed to the tip of the iceberg and are not in a position to form an educated opinion, or we can do research to address the underlying cause and improve the situation. Being an armchair judge puts us in a helpless state where our opinions don’t impact the outcome or do anything to remedy the problems; it only serves to make us feel agitated. There are countless causes and organizations created by those who desire to take action on the issues that upset them. We have the opportunity to participate and contribute in this way.
Ultimately, letting go of judgment creates freedom for ourselves and others. We are able to open our hearts and experience love and compassion rather than hatred, judgment, and condemnation. Focusing that sharp attention on ourselves allows us to deal with our own pain and guilt in ways that allow for greater self-awareness and inner peace.
(c) by Diane Wing, M.A., all rights reserved
*The Star Chamber (1983) is about a judge who is discouraged by the failures of the legal system after seeing hardened criminals go free on technicalities. He is introduced to the Star Chamber, a secret organization that condones vigilante action in cases where justice has not been served. However, when the cabal sentences two criminals to death, and the judge finds them falsely accused, he clashes with the powerful group.