Sunday, September 19, 2010

Judge Not, and Don't Feel Judged

I grew up in a very judgmental family environment.  We were a liberal/progressive family, so the judgment didn't manifest in disapproval of others' life choices; it manifested in the conclusion that everyone should think just like us.

After my parents' divorce, I was forced to rethink everything -- to reexamine the structures in my mind.  It was hard -- but it was also freeing.  I railed against this idea nine years ago, but as some of the people in my adult children of divorce mailing list said (the ones who were further past the traumatic events), the divorce was truly one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I left no stone unturned.  I felt, for the first time, free to do what I concluded was right, rather than what others told me was right.  I grew up.

Many things I reconsidered and came to the same conclusion, e.g., washing your hands after you use the potty is a good idea.  Other things I reconsidered and came to a deeper conclusion, e.g., respecting other people's autonomy extends to their freedom to think and draw (possibly erroneous) conclusions, in addition to their life choices.

And still other things I reconsidered and came to a different conclusion.  One of those things is about judging others and taking offense.  I used to look at everyone and make judgments about their intrinsic worth.  I was taught to take the tiniest thing, and analyze it to a conclusion about that person's character.  For example, a woman touching her hair while she's talking to you is vain.  After that, it was hard for them to change in my eyes, except perhaps for the worse.  In return, I always felt judged by other people, and took the conclusions to which I believed they had arrived quite personally.

Then I learned that there are entirely different ways of thinking about other people.  You don't have to categorize and judge people; furthermore, people don't fit well into the boxes we put them in.  For example, I had a professor who had once done something to offend me who I had to work for shortly after my parents announced their intentions to divorce.  I was very angry and apprehensive about working for him, because I thought he was really unkind and judgmental.  As it turned out, we ended up getting along very well, and he was highly supportive of me both personally and professionally.  He was a little eccentric and socially unskilled, yes, but had the best of intentions.

I also learned that I don't always have to think the worst of others when they do "bad" things.  I've talked about this before in terms of people doing mean things to me, but this also extends to people who make life choices I would not make or draw erroneous conclusions due to what I perceive as poor judgment.  So, instead of automatically assuming that a poor person who eats a lot of fast food is lazy or gluttonous, I can examine all the factors that have led to those in poverty eating such unbalanced diets,* and actually come to a more positive conclusion.

Today, I tend to suspend judgment of other people.  This is not to say that I just let somebody who did something hurtful to me do it again; I just don't take their bad behavior and subtract from their intrinsic worth as a human being.  As much as I dislike some people, they are human beings and deserve at a minimum a basic level of respect and dignity.

This also means that I deserve a basic level of respect and dignity, something I didn't realize before.  By being less judgmental of others, I am also able to feel less judged myself.  And that is a huge weight off my shoulders.

* Fast food is cheaper (per calorie or per ounce) than nutritious food, so a person with little money would choose fast food to maximize the fullness of their belly, under constraint of their small budget.  Furthermore, there is a paucity of fresh and nutritious food in poor, urban neighborhoods (which are often referred to as "food deserts"), making it even more difficult to get nutritious foods.  Given all the constraints on time and budgetary limits, I would probably make the same choice in the same situation.

1 comment:

Sally said...

This is an interesting peek into how you think. Thanks for sharing. I find the two easiest ways to not be judgemental are 1) give people the benefit of the doubt and 2) love the person but hate the action.

So, for example, if someone says or does something that hurts me, I try to think of why someone I value would say or do such a thing. Usually, they just weren't thinking or were having a bad day, or there's some other explaination. It doesn't excuse it, but it helps me understand it.

If I assume the action or words make them a bad person, then I'm judging. If I give them the benefit of the doubt, then it's easier to move on. If I focus on the good in the person as opposed to the hurt of the one statement or action, then I keep a clearer perspective.

Of course, this only works with friends or colleagues who are usually quite kind. Everybody makes mistakes. A few people lose that benefit of the doubt through repeated actions, but that's another story.