In a time as politically and socially charged as now, it’s never been easier to make snap judgments. Some of us judge people for wearing masks; others for not wearing masks. Some of us judge people for saying something offensive; others judge for not saying enough. For some reason, we feel like we can determine someone’s worth by one tiny detail that we only half-see from the outside. While this behavior feels automatic and natural, it isn’t healthy for anyone involved. When you judge others, your spirituality takes a hit.
Judging People and Spirituality
Has someone ever cut you off while driving? I make the most absurd judgments of people who cut me off. “What an absolutely heartless, evil human being! I would never cut someone off like that!” I yell through the windshield with gritted teeth. However, my outburst doesn’t help me feel any better, plus, I’m left in a terrible mood for at least ten minutes. (And let’s be real–we’ve all made bad decisions while driving, so I have no room to talk.)
Even if you don’t see that particular person ever again, passing judgment on them harms your ability to connect with others. Bad habits form pretty quickly, and soon it becomes easier to judge more of the people you interact with. (And then you wonder why you feel so upset all the time.) Judgment puts up a wall between you and others. Since relationships are so central to leading a fulfilling life, this creates a huge barrier to your happiness.
On the flip side, meaningful relationships help you find spiritual fulfillment. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen an angry spiritual person. And I’ve never been able to create spiritual connection when I’m filled with frustration. So it makes sense that judging others, even in seemingly harmless ways, harms your spiritual health.
People Are Like Hurt Puppies
Of course, nothing I’ve said is news to you. Still, it’s hard to break the judging habit. So how can you? A psychologist Tara Brach tells the following story.
Imagine that you’re walking through a vibrant forest. There is sunlight pouring through the canopy of trees and wildflowers along your path. You see a cute puppy next to a tall oak tree. You approach to pet the puppy, but when you reach for it, it snarls and tries to bite your hand. Scared and angry, you run away. The forest doesn’t feel so pretty anymore. You can’t even see the sun because the trees are so thick. A chill wind blows, making you shiver. But the wind also blows away some leaves near the puppy. You see that one of its legs is caught in a trap. Suddenly, it makes sense why the puppy reacted the way it did.
It’s the same with people. We may be offended by one choice that a person makes, and we instantly judge them as deeply flawed. But would we be so hard on them if we could see the big picture–if we could see their wounds?
What to Do Instead
Understanding this principle helps you see others in a more compassionate light and reduces your desire to judge. But what are some practical things to do in-the-moment when you find yourself thinking poorly about others?
- Recognize when you make an unfair judgment. A lot of the time, you don’t even realize that you’re judging people. So practice recognizing your patterns. When you notice yourself judging people, take a moment to stop and breathe. Reconnect to yourself. Do you really want to keep this train of thought going? This alone can help decrease the frequency of your judgmental thoughts.
- Reality-check. Remember the puppy story. Tell yourself, “I don’t know the situation.” Maybe that person cut me off because they were running late to an important job interview. A helpful reminder might be, “I don’t think they had malicious intentions.” (I can assure you, most people don’t put “be a jerk” on New Years Resolutions.) Give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Remember that everyone deserves love. Every human being has an intrinsic need to love and be loved. It’s in our natures. So think kind thoughts. If someone in the grocery store is talking a little too loudly about their political views, try to admire their passion.
Your ability to connect with yourself spiritually comes from within, not from other people’s actions. If you think that you would be more spiritual “if other people would just [insert something that gets you fed up here],” take a moment to reconsider. They aren’t in charge of your spirituality! You are.
If you’re feeling ambitious, try to go 24 hours without criticizing another person (yes, thoughts count, too). You’ll most likely catch yourself making judgments you weren’t even aware of. And this is okay! The skill comes with practice. See it as a way to show compassion for other people. (And for yourself–who wants to be angry all the time, anyway?)