Not too long ago I wrote a MindBodyGreen post about questions to ask yourself if you want to strengthen your relationship. I was really excited for the post to go live, because I thought it would deeply resonate with people looking to deepen their communication and connection with their partner.
The day it was posted, I saw that the post was accompanied by a photo of a same-sex couple. Yet thinking nothing of it, I simply waited for people to comment on the post, as interacting with readers is one of my favorite parts of the process. Later, however, I was surprised to see that the comments had nothing to do with the content of the article. Instead, what ensued was a dialogue about the appropriateness (or inappropriateness, according to some) of the photograph.
I found myself disheartened by the harsh comments. I thought about how I would feel if I saw a picture of a relationship that reflected my own being met with such contempt. As Monica Lewinsky recently pointed out in her Ted Talk, the Internet is filled with such instances of judgment and shaming others. And while I know aggressive Internet behavior is common, it was disappointing for me to see it on an uplifting site like MBG.
Of course, we all make judgments all the time, at least to some extent. (Think about it: many of our opinions, likes and dislikes are all some form of "judgment," even if they are harmless). But many judgments can be harmful, both for us and others. Whether we are judging the behavior of someone in the public eye or someone who sits next to us on the couch, the effects of holding onto judgments can be detrimental to our ability to feel connected and compassionate.
As Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So how do we stop judging others so we can start to fully embrace them and the world around us? Here are five solid ways to start.
1. Practice mindfulness off the meditation cushion.
Mindfulness, or the practice of examining your thoughts non-judgmentally, can be a good place to start. And surely cultivating this practice formally (sitting on a meditation cushion or chair, for instance) helps us be more mindful in our daily lives. But it's important to pursue this goal proactively.
For a lot of us, it can be difficult to even acknowledge that we are judging others or our experiences harshly, because it may not align with how we tend to perceive ourselves. In other words, if you see yourself as a “good” and “kind” person, then it may make you feel uncomfortable to entertain the possibility that you could have some beliefs that you aren’t proud of.
However, the only way to be able to explore judgmental thoughts (and hopefully do away with them) is to be mindful of when you are engaging in them. Recognize your judgments rather than judging your judgments (and feeling bad about yourself as a result). Becoming aware of them is the first step to opening your mind and heart.
2. Emphasize empathy.
Consider the wisdom of the Native American proverb, “Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” Researchers have suggested that empathy isn't something you simply have or don't have; rather, the act of showing empathy in any given situation is a choice. What this means is that you can be intentional about looking at a situation from another’s perspective, and in so doing, reduce your likelihood of judgment.
We tend to think of empathy as being weak rather than strong, sweet rather than assertive. But empathy is actually powerful, so much so that its force can help you let go of judgments. So emphasize your practice of cultivating empathy, to yourself and to others. It's worth the effort.
3. Really notice the impact intense judgments have on your mood.
On the surface, it might seem that when you judge others, you lift yourself up in some way. Or at least that's what we were told in middle school about bullies: they put others down to feel better about themselves. And sure, your self-esteem might get a bit of a boost when you compare yourself to someone you see as being of less value than you in some way.
However, if you are prone to judging, it is likely that you are also judging how you measure up to a variety of criteria you cling to in your mind. In turn, you're probably either quite critical of yourself, or pretty sensitive to the perceived judgments of others. Both of these behaviors make it more difficult to be, and feel comfortable being, your authentic self. Working to accept yourself and others is the best way to combat this dynamic.
4. Be open to different experiences and people.
We often judge others when we get stuck in the trap of thinking our way is the only way. And when our minds become closed, the cycle can become a vicious one: the more we think we are right, the worse we feel (sometimes without realizing it), and the more stubborn we become.
However, in reality, our perspectives tend to be shaped by our personal histories, experiences, culture, and a host of other factors. So instead of looking for aspects of a situation or person to judge negatively, adopt a spirit of curiosity and actively look for positive aspects of people and situations. This will help to reduce judgment, because it is pretty hard to judge and appreciate simultaneously!
5. Have a diverse group of friends.
One of the most powerful ways to reduce the tendency to judge others is to interact with a variety of people (including ones who are “different” from you in some way). In fact, one study showed that when we have friends from other groups, we are more prone to associate members of that group with ourselves.
In short: the more you expose yourself to diversity, the more likely it is that you will see the commonalities among everyone. Though with all that said, opening yourself up to those who may seem superficially different can often reveal more profound commonalities.
To close, strive to put Steve Maraboli’s quote into practice. “How would your life be different if … You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day … You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.”