Take yourself back to your worst day in middle school. What was the most embarrassing, scarring memory you have from those awkward years?
There’s a good chance it involves people judging you.
In my case, it was a particular day in sixth grade when breakouts were staking territory on my chin and all my friends still had perfectly clear faces. They joked about it all afternoon and I laughed along with them, secretly wishing I could go home and cry into a pillow. Mine was a pretty mild experience but it has still stuck with me for all these years somehow.
There were many times in middle school when I was on the other side of the judging, too. Fifteen years later, it’s still a habit I have yet to fully break.
We judge because we are hard-wired to judge. In fact, judging begins instantly upon seeing another person. If you think about it evolutionarily, this makes complete sense. We have to use the small amount of information we have to determine whether a situation is safe. It has to happen quickly or you may get eaten by a bear.
In the modern world, the need for judgement is a little less crucial to our personal (and bodily) well-being, but it’s there nonetheless.
There may be a scientific basis for why we make judgments, but it certainly doesn’t justify the negative judgments many of us make daily.
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When you’re on the subway and see a person with the ugliest hair you have ever seen, taking a picture and sending it to your friends is not equivalent to that split-second judgment we make about trustworthiness. That’s just being a jerk.
This type of judgement is part entertainment and/or a cure for boredom (“lol look at that awful hair!”), part to make ourselves feel better (“by comparison, my hair looks great today”), and part out of fear that we don’t want to be the judged party (“better to be the judge than the judged”).
But you’ve heard it before: what you say about others reflects more on you than it does them.
In a 2010 Wake Forest University study, researchers found that “negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior,” while “a person’s tendency to describe others in positive terms is an important indicator of the positivity of the person’s own personality traits.” Which type of person would you rather be?
So there are a few reasons why it’s bad practice to judge others, but sometimes we decide that we simply can’t help it.
I used to feel that way with smokers (and I still kind of do, if I’m being honest–I’m working on it, okay). There is nothing I hate more than walking down the sidewalk and suddenly being enveloped in a stranger’s smoke cloud. Hello, I didn’t sign up to inhale any carcinogenic smoke today thank you very much. I get so furious and immediately assume this person must be self-centered and inconsiderate and downright disgusting. As you can tell, I still have some feelings on the matter, and I’ll probably never stop thinking it’s rude. But it doesn’t give me the right to judge who they are as a person.
The most convincing argument against judgement is that you will never have all the information necessary to make a fair and accurate judgement of another person. Your brain will automatically make some snap judgements, sure, but that’s where it should stop. Even people you’re very close to may have something going on that you don’t know about.
Always opt for kindness over judgement.
Because you don’t have all the information, you will never know what people are going through. Maybe that person whose hair you made fun of simply couldn’t afford a nice haircut, or maybe they genuinely love it and just got up the courage to wear it out that day. Don’t you feel bad now?
With smokers, even though I feel like it’s rude to smoke around non-consenting strangers, a little compassion goes a long way: I try to remember that it’s an addiction and maybe they also hate that they smoke. It’s also possible that smoking is their way of coping with a mental illness or not having enough food; cigarettes may be cheaper than their medication or grocery bill. As soon as that thought crosses my mind, I realize that maybe I’m the rude one here. Even if they really are the self-centered jerk I would have previously judged them to be, it’s not my place to diagnose that. Better to just move away from the smoke and move on with my life.
It’s never easy to cut a habit out of your life completely, but you can take steps to live more positively and curb the judgement.
One way is to catch yourself in the act. You may not be able to stop the ingrained habit overnight, but you can be critical of your thoughts as they’re happening. Maybe you’ll pause and decide not to send that picture of a stranger’s hair (it’s super creepy to do that anyway, just sayin’).
You should also learn which judgments are stereotypes. This goes way beyond the scope of this article because often racism, sexism, and other -isms are involved, but it’s worth bringing up that many judgments are simply based on what we’re taught to believe about others. Sagging pants? They must love rap music. Asian? They must get perfect grades in math. An angry woman? Get her some chocolate and ibuprofen stat. Note that I even kept these judgments somewhat on the “positive” side, but yes, they’re still harmful and rude.
You can also actively look for the good in people if you don’t naturally do so. When you focus on the bad, that’s all you will see and it will overshadow all the good traits that person has. You would rather people see the good in you, so you should give them the same courtesy.
Lastly, learn to be happy with yourself. Judgement comes out of insecurity and a fear of not being good enough. When you judge someone, it’s more about you than it is about them. Learn to appreciate and love yourself rather than judging yourself, and you’re fast on the road to judging others less, too.
It’s not easy to stop being judgmental, especially when we make those judgments to make ourselves feel better. Focus on yourself and less on other people; focus on spreading kindness, and it will be easier for you to get rid of your judgmental ways.
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