I recall a time, years ago, when I liked to think of myself as nonjudgemental. After all, I get along with most people, I respect various viewpoints, and I value giving others the benefit of the doubt. Then a smart friend of mine declared with such clarity the simple truth that, of course, all humans are judgmental. We need to be in order to navigate our lives in terms of preferences and ultimately for survival. She flipped my notion of being judgmental from a negative quality to, at times, a very positive, imperative one. Judgements build personalities and develop wisdom. Judgements are a helpful form of reasoning indeed… to a point.
As useful as they are, judgements can also fool us when we cross into shadow territory. When used as a means to separate us from others and artificially self-soothe, judgements become destructive, such as “Well at least I’m not bad as she is.” It seems to me that, more often than not, within the judgements of others lie insecurities of our own. For example, Shannon may judge that Jennifer spends way too much money on clothing, but hiding beneath that criticism is the truth that Shannon feels insecure about how she looks right now in her own clothes. By judging Jennifer, Shannon feels superior to Jennifer for just a moment and pushes away the pain she actually feels about the subject. The toll of the unexamined judgement, however, is a relational fracture (even if only in one’s mind) and the missed opportunity to deal with a personal issue needing attention (i.e. Shannon working on what she can do to feel better about how she looks). How clever the ego is!
I’ve found that I can usually tell whether a judgement is actually useful or detrimental by looking at the content of the situation and getting really honest with myself. For example, if the judgement is, “He spends way too much time playing golf,” the questions I might ask myself are, “Am I jealous of him in some way?” or “Is there something I wish I had more time to do?” or “What do I associate with playing golf that makes me uneasy?” It can require a bit of inner reflection to get at the root insecurity hidden in unproductive judgements, but that effort makes possible potential growth and improved connection with others. Next time we catch ourselves passing a judgment on a fellow human being, let’s unpack it and explore if it’s beneficial and, if not, let’s welcome the invitation to make an improvement in our own lives. May you be inspired!