One of the things most of us are taught as children is to never judge other people.
We’re told… “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”
Then, our adolescence is really all about judgments, learning to form our own opinions and perceptions apart from others; learning to separate from our parents and judge the world through our own eyes. We are also supposed to learn how to be accepting and open towards others and their different ideas, opinions and worldviews. We’re told that we should walk a mile in another’s shoes before we judge them!
And yet, despite our best efforts, many of us still fall into the trap of judging others throughout our lives, even though we know we probably shouldn’t!
An investigation from researcher Dustin Wood at Wakefield University shows that people who are overly judgemental and critical tend to be more self-centred and even anti-social in their overall behaviours, while those who are less judgemental, actually tend to be happier, more kind-hearted and actually more emotionally stable! This study also found that how positively you see other people actually reveals how satisfied you are with your own life, and how much you are liked by others.
So maybe learning not to judge others may actually improve our own life in some ways? If we make an effort to see others in the best light we may actually end up happier ourselves? Positivity and acceptance may be contagious!
But the reality is many of us often default to judging others. So why do we do that? Why do we judge others, often before we even get to know them?
It’s Natural to Make “Snap Judgements”
Our everyday world is chockfull of stimuli. Our brain is constantly hit with hundreds of things every minute to process and to do that we make “snap judgements” to help it all make sense. With all of this data coming in all the time we need to quickly simplify and structure the world so we can understand it better. Unfortunately, though, this inclination towards making snap judgements and to quickly pigeonhole things as quickly as we can, may sometimes cause us to make judgments in error.
These quick judgements may lead us to judge people in a negative light before we truly get to know who they are as human beings. How many times have you formed an opinion of someone based on a quick conversation or even based on how they look or how they were dressed? Only to find out later that our assumption was totally wrong! We may make snap judgements to simplify our world and “save brain power”, but doing so may cause us to view others inaccurately and maybe even harm potential new relationships.
It May Make Us Feel Superior
The truth is, sometimes judging others comes from our own insecurities and our own deep-seated fears of being flawed in some fundamental way. Sometimes, tearing others down is a way some may use to prop themselves up. By judging others in a negative light, we compare ourselves to them and we may then find ourselves looking “better” in some way or another. Compared to their life, their bank account, their house, their car, their education, their job, their behaviour, their body, their wife or husband, we may look pretty good!
But these kinds of comparisons are hollow, empty and even maybe unhealthy. We should use our own unique goals and progress in life as our measuring yardstick. Instead, we let this comparison to others determine how well we’re doing! We create a false sense of superiority when we spend our time locating the faults of others. We decide, maybe even subconsciously to some degree, that as long as others are flawed, even slightly more than we are, we can relax and feel more justified in our own shortcomings and failures to meet our own goals. Instead of spending the time and effort finding these “shortcomings” in others, we would surely do much better to focus on how we can become our best selves?
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
It Can Make Us Feel Like We’re Part of a Group
Judging others can also make us feel like we’re included as part of a group. For instance, let’s look at a work situation where one person judges a co-worker regarding some behaviour or action or whatever — then they tell someone else and this person tells someone else, and so forth and so on. All of a sudden a group-think has formed around this judgmental negativity. A group forms around “picking on someone”.
A great example are the cliques and “in-groups” that form in every junior high school. No one judges quite like an insecure middle schooler! These cliques are based on judging other’s behaviour, appearance, socio-economic status, etc etc. It feels good to be a part of a group and included, but often, and sadly, this kind of negativity is often at the expense of another.
It May Actually Help Us Understand Ourselves Better
Interestingly, judging others can also be a way to help us understand the world and ourselves better. When we explore our relationships with others and form opinions, we are also able to recognize what is important to us, what we value and what may bother us or push our buttons.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Judging may even help us explore our own faults and weaknesses. Oftentimes, we are bothered by the qualities in others that we would prefer not to see in ourselves! We are upset by another’s attitudes, character or even their lifestyle choices because they may be the very ones we dislike in ourselves. For instance, if we notice someone in our life is a little short tempered or maybe whiny, or braggadocious, and it really bothers us? We may want to be brave and take a deep, deep breath and look at ourselves and see if sometimes our own behaviours are similar and see if it’s something we may want to change ourselves.
Breaking the Judgement Habit
So how do we stop making these critical and shallow judgements of others?
“The answer is that we are not helpless in the face of our first impressions. They may bubble up from the unconscious – from behind a locked door inside of our brain – but just because something is outside of awareness doesn’t mean it’s outside of control.”
If you’ve recognized that you may have an inclination toward judging others and really many of us do, here are some three strategies to start breaking the habit:
- Really make an honest effort to try to walk a mile in another’s shoes and understand where other people are really coming from, and why they may act or look the way they do. Understanding and empathy are crucial to stopping our judgement cycle. Realize being human is being flawed — that absolutely no-one is perfect and therefore we should really, really try to have realistic expectations of others.
- Try to explore and recognize your own self-doubts and uncertainties, especially if you recognize them in others and they irk you! Recognize your own faults and work on improving yourself and building your own self-confidence instead of tearing others down.
- Explore and examine your friendships and connections with others at work and other places. Are they based on positivity or are they maybe about judging or even actively criticizing and judging others? If its the latter, ask yourself if this is really how you want your life to look and maybe instead focus on building connections based on positivity, empathy and mutual respect.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee,
If you find that you have a tendency towards judging others and it’s affecting your life in negative ways or maybe you feel that maybe it’s kind of due to your own feelings of low self-esteem, it may help to speak with a therapist who can help you learn to grow and change in helpful ways.