You’re using your hammer to bash a hole in the front door every time you need to get in. Your razor blade glistens in the light as you try and chop up a loaf. Your door is full of holes and your bread is torn to shreds. But it’s not the fault of the hammer or the razor blade; you’re just using them the wrong way.
Judgement is a bit like the hammer. Good instrument, but we can extremely lazy in how we use it. When we talk about becoming less judgemental we have to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Judgement is an important human trait.
A Dutch proverb holds that ‘the landlord trusts his guests in accordance with his own nature”. If he is a thieving lying landlord, then he expects to be robbed and deceived. If he is a kind and generous man, he will expect everyone else to be inoffensive too. We may like the latter landlord more than the first, but in truth, both landlords are naïve and lacking in discrimination. Both lack the ability to assess another person on their individual merit. Both are applying judgement in the laziest way possible, using generalisation instead of discrimination.
The kind and generous landlord may well need to learn to set boundaries so that he is not taken advantage of. Treat others as you want to be treated yourself is a laudable and important sentiment, but respecting that some people can’t or won’t, and ‘discriminating’ accordingly, is an important skill to acquire. Just as you must discriminate between the mushroom that is edible and the one that will kill you. You don’t judge the murdering mushroom for being made like that, you just don’t eat it.
The landlord who distrusts his guests makes the same mistake. He assumes everyone is the same. He thinks in generalities, in stereotypes. All rich people are spoiled and self-indulgent, all fat people are lazy, thin people are neurotics. Those are all lazy judgements, and we all make them, ALL the time. The trick is not to act on them. Register the information coming from the psyche and then filter it through the reasoning part of the brain. Ask yourself does it matter? Does it affect me?
Why do we judge in the first place?
In the days of our cave dwelling forebears, I would imagine, anything that was ‘different’ from the small tribes they lived in was considered dangerous, even other humans. Different in the way they looked, or dressed, or behaved.
To survive they had to make a judgement about whether they would be harmed or not, so their inner dialogue might be; can I eat it, will it eat me, can I mate with it?
The ability to discriminate between something that will harm us and something that will help us is hard wired into the brain. Ten thousand years ago a lion would set the alarm bells of the Amygdala ringing in the brains of our forebears, causing them to run, hunt or freeze. But today, the lion in the zoo is not going to have the same effect. It probably won’t attack nor do we need to hunt it for food, since the zoo cafeteria is around the corner. In addition, we now have some extensions to our primitive brain, giving us the ability to reason our way through a dilemma. The neo-cortex is like a modern command and control centre in the brain, giving us the chance to override these primitive impulses. But only if we use it correctly!
Hand in hand with the neo-cortex’s gift of reasoning, has come the mixed blessing of self-awareness and self-consciousness; the thought that asks “how am I perceived in the eyes of others”. Social structures such as organised religions, political ideologies, small societies, and in modern times, advertisers and media moguls manipulate and influence this capability on a daily basis.
The mixed blessing of self-consciousness
Today, in the same situation, the constant diet of external input, the advent of a stranger may well create an inner dialogue that is far more complicated; ohhhh… a stranger…. Interesting hat, bit red, is that appropriate, are they dressed to fit in, to stand out, do they make me look bad, or good. Should I have had a red hat, what would the boss say if I did. Are red hats in or out? What am I supposed to think about them, what did I read in the magazine, in the paper, see on the news, hear from my priest, and then.. (panic strikes) I wonder what are they thinking of me, of my dress, my lack of hat …. Blah blah blah..
Exhausting! Especially if our only references for making the judgement are references that belong to other people’s ideas and norms. And while that evolutionary process of thinking has also led to good things, like the notion that all humans are of equal value, despite race, gender, intelligence, our ability to be self-aware is drowned out by all the messages coming at us about what is acceptable and what is not.
Societies have rules and norms and if we want to belong we need to adhere to them, which is fine, if you want to join that tribe. As someone who has lived in cultures other than her own I am well aware that there is always a price to pay for belonging. However, I also believe in having the courage to be different, to be true to yourself, to risk being cast out if remaining part of the tribe demands too high a price.
The primitive brain still thinks that anything that is ‘different’ is dangerous. If we’re truly evolving to a time where it is our very uniqueness that makes us interesting to one another, rather than our sameness then we’d better start now.
When you allow yourself to stop being defined from the outside in, and start defining yourself from the inside out, you find the courage to just ‘be’ you, whatever the judgement and the projections of others. This is the juncture where lazy judgments meet with our own lack of self-esteem. To stop acting out our judgement of the other, whether we behave like the landlords, thieving or good, or in accordance with our tribe, or the media, we need to stop judging ourselves first. And in order to do that, we need to employ self-awareness in a friendly and compassionate manner.
Don’t compare and compete, but explore your own unique take on any given situation. “He wore a red hat, cool. I don’t. End of story.” Is it really any more important than that? We make judgments about others all the time because it is part of our primitive brain trying to determine who is safe and who is harmful. But the more in harmony we are with the unique individual that we are, the good, the bad and the ugly, the less we will feel the need to do anything with that information, other than to say ‘really psyche, how interesting, thank you for sharing’.