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Judging Others

In my book My Mind Is Not Always My Friend: A Guide for How to Not Get in Your Own Way, I say that when we stop judging, love is everywhere. By judging, I mean negatively evaluating other people’s actions or words and expressing our evaluation to them in some way.



When we judge others, we are literally passing judgment on them. This puts a barrier between them and us, and it discourages trust, communication, intimacy and loving feelings. That’s why it’s important to gain insight into our habit of judging others and to learn to be less judgmental.



When our mind is operating automatically (as opposed to when we are in the moment and making conscious choices), I refer to the workings of the mind as our machinery. Judgments are feelings that our machinery instantly reacts to.



The voice in our head, which comes from our machinery and relays judgments to us, has one job: to keep us safe. Our mind is constantly evaluating everything in our field of vision, looking for anything it senses as a potential danger, and our machinery reacts instantly to everything that is scanned. The reaction can be anything from a positive judgment that something is safe to a negative judgment that it’s a threat. If it’s a threat, our reaction may be some form of fight or flight. Fight or flight can mean literally running away, or it can mean shutting down emotionally or verbally attacking the person whom the machinery interprets to be a threat.

The biggest problem is that our machinery automatically classifies our judgment as a fact as opposed to being just a feeling.



Before I recognized this, my inner world went to war over my judgments because I didn’t know the difference between a feeling and a fact. For me, everything was black and white, right or wrong, yes or no, my way or the highway, and every judgment had intense emotion behind it. If I felt that someone threatened me—which might mean that I interpreted the person as putting me down or criticizing me—I’d instantly feel that my judgment was right and attack the person to defend myself.



In situations in which we feel threatened, our machinery often reacts instantly and preemptively, even though more often than not there is no real problem, just a misinterpretation on the machinery’s part. For example, the machinery may interpret someone’s disagreeing with us as a danger, and we judge the other person as wrong and instantly defend ourselves. A disagreement isn’t, in fact, a threat, and neither is a criticism. If you can put your judgment aside and really hear and open your mind to what the other person is saying, a disagreement or even a criticism can lead to your learning something new about yourself or gaining a new perspective on the situation that you and the other person are involved in, and this may lead to a resolution that will be good for you both.



I have a friend whose mother taught her that “there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything.” After being raised by a mother who instructed her on what constitutes good manners, how to dress, what kind of furniture is in good taste, and every other aspect of life, my friend has trouble not passing judgment on all the people around her whom she sees doing things that are “wrong”—in other words, doing things their own way instead of the way her mother taught her was right.



This has led my friend to being very judgmental with her husband and children. She’s had to learn that just because she thinks that it’s wrong when her husband cooks dinner a certain way or wears a certain shirt with a certain pair of pants doesn’t mean that it’s actually wrong. And she’s had to learn not to express her judgments to him or, in similar situations, to her children, who are now adults.



The challenge, as she readily admits, is that when she sees something that’s “wrong,” she feels it so strongly that she thinks it’s a fact. Again, the trouble is that feelings aren’t facts, even though we think they are.

If a friend cancels a date with me at the last minute, I might get angry and tell him off and then find out later that he was too embarrassed to tell me the truth, that he was sick and didn’t want to ruin my evening by telling me. In this situation I might believe that by canceling our date, he’s rejecting me—which my mind interprets as a threat—and I make the judgment that he’s being hostile and I have to tell him off in order to defend myself.

This judging process is “solid state”—that is, the mind generally doesn’t weigh the issue but instead reacts in a nanosecond and not in proportion to the situation. My telling off my friend, especially in the circumstance of his being sick, can damage our friendship permanently because he may see my overreaction and misinterpretation as a sign that I’m unforgiving and inflexible.



Even if my friend cancels a date at the last moment for another reason, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s rejecting me or my friendship with him. If there’s a real issue, it’s better to discuss it and find the cause than to react with an instantaneous judgment, go into attack mode as a defense and then find that we’ve created a chasm between us and the other person that’s hard to cross.



Here is a rule of thumb: silent judgments can exist without causing conflict between us and others, but when we act on our judgments with either words, deeds or even body language, they become “voiced judgments,” which can cut the other person—sometimes like a butter knife, sometimes like a meat cleaver. It’s important to keep judgments to ourselves until we’ve had time to process them and to make a conscious choice about how accurate our perception is and how we want to respond to the other person. When I do this, often I realize that my judgment is off base, and there’s no need for me to say anything.

A companion to “feelings are not facts” is another rule: you can’t argue with another’s perceptions. One of my guiding principles that arises from this rule is that conflicting feelings can coexist peacefully until you attach an action to them. When two people see and feel about things differently, as long as actions are not attached to these opposing feelings, a situation might be uncomfortable, but it will be bearable.



Problems come only when the feelings burst into behavior in which the two people’s machineries go to war. A prime example of this situation is when two people are angry at each other and one of them attaches an action to his feelings by punching the other in the jaw. As long as we don’t attach actions to our opposing-viewpoint feelings, we hold out the potential for creating the opportunity to talk about our feelings accurately and without judgment while remembering that feelings are feelings, not facts!

The true answer to how to stop our judging process is to stay in the present—to stay conscious rather than acting on automatic pilot. I find it helpful to keep in mind the advice Miguel Ruiz gives in his book The Four Agreements, which teaches us to avoid needless suffering by using these four rules:



1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don’t take anything personally.

3. Don’t make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.




  • 29 Aug, 2013
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 1 Tags

CATEGORIES Blog Personal Growth


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