It is so easy to be judgmental towards others. Our wandering monkey minds and egos always seem to “go there” as a matter of staying busy, or of bolstering ourselves by cutting others down. Judgment also invites shame when self-applied, as any wounds of inherent inadequacy can be distorted or amplified when we compare ourselves to others or some impossible standard in general.
Certain people seem to come into our lives in order to overtly or directly challenge any capacity we might have to be in a state of Non-Judgment. They may engage in behaviors that harm themselves or others, or act in manner that makes application of Non-Judgment difficult. They seem to cry out for our judgment, or they want to put us in a place of judgment so that we can somehow match their egoic Energy.
Many spiritual traditions espouse Non-Judgment as a cornerstone teaching. Jesus admonished followers to: “Judge not lest ye be judged.”
Buddha advised: “Do not be a judge of others, do not judge others. Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves.”
The incomparable Sufi poet Rumi, says, with characteristic imagery: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
The Genesis story to which I often refer involved partaking of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Having this knowledge of the differential of good and evil implies having judgment in its various shades and degrees. Within the context of that story, a propensity for judgment can be implied to be a fundamental aspect of the human condition that serves to separate us from Divinity, innocence and The Tree of Life. It was an aspect of our fall from grace and a manner of falsely equating ourselves to the Divine.
Here, judgment is implied to be a God-like power taken on as a matter of self-importance and with an accompanied loss of Humility. It is not intended to be our domain, however. Per that old story, we immediately acquired shame at our nakedness and were immediately in judgment of ourselves. Judgment takes up space which could be otherwise filled with Love and Divinity.
We try not to be judgmental, and if we are even partially self-aware, we will often catch ourselves when we are in violation of the various “Judge Not” doctrines. We become even more acutely aware of the phenomena when we feel we are on the receiving end of it.
Remaining Non-Judgmental is a struggle for all because, let’s face it, there are people out there that we just don’t like. We don’t want to be around them. We don’t like what they do or what they have done, and we base this dislike on our own observations of their actions and/or our personal experience with them. We might see them as liars, thieves, con artists, abusers, addicts, too conservative, too liberal, rude, racist, or not very bright. Heck, we might even judge others because we find them too judgmental!
I personally struggle with not wanting to be around people who are judgmental while simultaneously recognizing the hypocrisy inherent in this preference.
Non-Judgment is an ideal for which to constantly strive, rather than a condition that can be achieved once and then maintained in perpetuity. Simply put, we can judge action but not the fundamental value of a person as a whole. We cannot hold others in contempt. We are all in varying states of awakening and consciousness, and should accept one another where we are. We must remain open to the possibility that those who are unkind to us are kind to others, or someone who is not bright in one area may be bright in another. For these reasons, it is ultimately impossible for any one person to know fully the precise “value” of another.
Sometimes we do need to practice discernment. Sometimes we do need to honor and Respect ourselves enough to not allow harm to ourselves; sometimes we need to guard our Energy, being mindful of the Energies we surround ourselves with and what we might “take on.” We remove ourselves from being around the energies of certain behaviors, and the people that manifest them as we need to honor our Truth and exercise the preferences that enforce it.
“The more one judges, the less one loves.” -Honore de Balzac
The Nomenclature of Judgment
On the topic of nomenclature, we want to be aware of variations and terms associated with the judgment of others. These variations include: discernment, preference, opinion, observation, statement of fact, prejudice and bias.
Discernment is considered a statement of fact— i.e. Fred uses drugs. It is an observation about the facts. The statement has no value or judgment associated with it. If Fred is in denial about his drug use, he might hear a statement such as the one above as a judgment. Sometimes a statement of fact is resisted because it feels like a judgment and thus may instigate feelings of shame and anger. A person’s inability to make or take in statements of fact is an indication of that person’s need for greater Self-awareness, Truth, Healing and Light.
When simple statements of fact cannot be uttered (“He hit his kid.” “She went to jail.”), what we get is the classic “Elephant in the Room” scenario.
Preference, on the other hand, is an expression of personal tastes, likes and dislikes. It is also what I consider a desire to manage our Energy by monitoring that to which we subject ourselves. A preference is also a discernment in that we are discerning what jibes with us, what feels right or feels congruent with our Energy and who we are.
We can say: “I prefer to not be around drug use.” This would be considered a statement of fact that is subjective to the experience of the person involved. If Fred hears this, he might take it as judgmental against him, even if the intent of the statement is not personal. Semantics matter when we express our preferences; the aim is not to personalize the situation in any way, i.e. “I don’t like to be around Fred because he is a drug user.”
Biases or prejudices are ingrained judgments placed upon a group of people. Prejudice objectifies and places labels on them. This labeling is unfair at face value; it lacks both Reason and Justice and fails to recognize individuality. Those who are afflicted with prejudice would typically be unaware that they stand in a constant state of judgment. They will seek to distort Reason to mesh with their judgmental paradigm as a method of alleviating cognitive dissonance, a state of stress encountered when prejudice interacts with the rational mind (see Reason). It is irrational to judge an individual based upon stereotypes.
Opinions are judgments that are based upon facts, emotions, preferences, biases or a mixture of all of the above. The more we base opinions on fact, the better. There is much gray area out there on just about every subject, yet people often have difficulty withholding their opinion until further facts are gathered. We also tend to personalize the expression of opinions and see them as judgment. If someone disagrees with our opinion, we can see it as a judgment against us (and against our inherent value) even when it was not meant to be so.
“It is never too late to give up your prejudices.” -Henry David Thoreau
Little “j” judgment and Big “J” Judgment
I would like to add the terms “Little j Judgment” and “Big J Judgment” to the nomenclature.
Little j judgments regard discerning our personal preferences for the types of behaviors and Energies we want to be around. We don’t want to be around behaviors that are harmful. We don’t want to be around Energy that is incongruent with ours. It is normal to be attracted to Energies that are more congruent with who we are.
Little j judgments include opinions about situations, politics and philosophies that are not personalized, and, most appropriately, that are arrived at with care.
As we make little j judgments, we will inevitably leave people behind. Their actions and opinions simply do not jibe with us. Doing this could leave us feeling like we are judging others in a “Big J” way (more on this below), but what we are actually doing is honoring our Truth and the personal preferences that manifest from that. When we do this, we are separating the sin from the sinner, the person from the behaviors and the opinion from the person who holds the opinion (or the opposite opinion).
“Big J Judgment” is judgment outside of our soul’s job description. It is judgment of a person’s overall worth, Divine nature and ability to reap heavenly rewards of any type based upon their behaviors or life circumstance. This includes, but is not limited to, any and all types of prejudice.
Who are we to judge people in this manner? Doing so is an expression of self-importance constituting an anointment of oneself as “equal to” or “greater than” God (see Lucifer in the Judeo-Christian Bible, or the Pharisees who seemed to engage in such).
I postulate that spiritual doctrines on Non-Judgment are generally a prohibition on Big J judgments. Non-Judgment is a way of always looking at others as Divine beings, despite the real or perceived sins they may have committed. Others can be held accountable for these “sins” in Earthly courts. We play no role whatsoever in adjudicating or speculating upon their Soul’s fate and value. We can still see them as Divine, no matter what. Admittedly, this is difficult at times.
When we remember to see everyone as Divine, we will judge action over intrinsic value. We will be more aware of our own Divinity and actions.
“The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti
Judging Others is Suffering
When we judge others, we are wanting reality to be different than it is. We may want a person to behave differently than they want to or are capable of behaving. And when we are in resistance to reality, we are suffering.
If we have a friend who we observe is overweight, eats unhealthy food, seems knowledgeable of the consequences and doesn’t express interest in losing weight or eating healthily, we may judge that person and/or their behavior rather than accepting them as they are. We want them to be different and to act differently─ yet they remain the same. Our judgment is a desire for reality to be other than it is and, as long as we hold that desire, we will feel agitated whenever we are with this friend.
We can choose to a) not be around that person, b) accept the situation, without judgment, or c) remain in constant judgment and suffering within ourselves.
When we release judgment and accept others as they are, our load lightens. If people express interest in changing in some way, we can always offer help. If not, we offer Non-Judgment. If a behavior is too much for us, we can separate ourselves from it after first looking within ourselves as to why we can’t release our judgment.
“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree….The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this,’ or ‘I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” -Ram Dass
The Carl Jung Test
There is a quote that I love by the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung that reads: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
When we catch ourselves in judgment of others and irritated in some manner, this quote asks us to look within and ask: What is it about me that allows me to be this irritated? What inside of me is triggered by this other person and/or their behavior?
Judgment tends to put everything outside of ourselves and towards others, in blame or condemnation. Per Dr. Jung, this tendency also offers us an opportunity for self-examination and growth.
The road-rage-afflicted driver can easily spew outrage and colorful language at the driver who just cut them off, and can do so with a certain degree of righteousness. We all know that when we drive, we will inevitably encounter poor or inconsiderate drivers at some point— yet we don’t all engage in road-rage behavior. When we do, we can ask ourselves, “What is it about encountering poor and inconsiderate driving skills that gets me so angry?”
Road-ragers might feel like their safety or needs didn’t matter to the other driver. They might explore the other times in their life where they felt like their safety or needs didn’t matter. They may discover that they have underlying wounds around that feeling which a rude driver might easily trigger. Or, they may simply discover that they have a low tolerance for those who they deem inconsiderate— that being considerate is an important quality to them, and they should therefore nourish it in themselves and seek the company of others who have this quality in order to promote their senses of Peace and Joy.
Any time we find ourselves in a place of judgment, it is good opportunity to ask: Why am I here?
“Be curious, not judgmental.” -Walt Whitman
Excessive Judgment and Common Forms of Judgment
If we find ourselves in a constant state of judgment, our ego is dominating our being and we are separating from our Divinity. This could be an indicator of an unconscious belief that we are somehow inherently inadequate. The ego engages in judging others as a method of self-soothing and distraction from one’s own wounds of inherent inadequacy. These wounds, in effect, are like a self-imposed “Big J Judgment” upon oneself. They rely on simplistic negative phrases like: “I am not lovable,” “I do not matter,” or “I am not valued.” The constant judgment of others does provide relief from constant self-judgment, but only fleetingly.
Watch out for sneaky yet common forms of deflecting your self-imposed Big J judgments, like gossip or constantly opining about how other people should live their lives.
In counseling, as a paradoxical intervention, I once suggested that a client write a memo to a person with whom they were overly concerned, and towards whom they were overly judgmental. The memo was to include how that other person should live their life, from the client’s point of view. The client was surprisingly disinterested in writing the memo. The intervention seemed to work— the client then refocused on their own life, perhaps realizing that judging and directing another’s life was intrusive or even silly when put in writing.
Playing the Blame Game is another judgmental behavior. It becomes a habit when we repeatedly have difficulty admitting our mistakes or the role we ourselves played in problematic situations. It often ignores the complexity of situations themselves, in addition to our participation in or contribution to them. We don’t grow if we don’t ask, “How might have I contributed to this situation? Is there anything that I could have done differently?”
Judgment of others based upon religious doctrine is also very common. Ironically, various religions that preach Non-Judgment will view others outside of their ilk as inferior or headed towards damnation. They engage in Big J Judgment. By shifting the attention outside of themselves, this constant and wide-sweeping judgment of others may help them to alleviate any cognitive dissonance they may have concerning their chosen religion. After all, why look within when you can focus on others and their trip to Hell?
Constant judgment of others is also a tool for enforcing adherence to social convention. It is a way of saying, “Your life is not complying with social convention!” Such judgment stifles growth and actualization of Truth under the threat of ostracism. Those who have suppressed their own Truths for practical reasons will often feel uncomfortable and even jealous when others break social convention to pursue their own path. For those who stand in judgment, judging others self-soothes the pain of a path not taken and provides a false feeling of agency for one’s life.
Sometimes these folks mean well, and the judgment is aimed towards loved ones they are concerned about. They fear their loved one’s pursuit of their Truth because they do not want difficulty or suffering for them. Judgment is another way of expressing fear. They espouse what they see as a safer route of conformity. In this way, judgment controls and keeps order.
These are the relatives who say, “Don’t quit your day job” when you tell them about pursuing your Truth.
With Non-Judgment, we allow others to live their lives and to be their True selves. We realize that not everyone is like us and we cannot view them through the lens of our own experience and values. We, at very least, confess to a lack of understanding of others. We can say, “I don’t understand their life, but if it works for them and harms no one, so be it.” Judgment can be a method of expressing a lack of understanding about someone or something.
“We can never judge the lives of others because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path but another to think that yours is the only path.” -Paulo Coehlo
We can be the toughest judges of our own behavior or even our own inherent worthiness. We can fall into the trap of comparison in a self-belittling way. We can tend to compare ourselves to society’s expectations of people, in terms of common milestones or accomplishments. This includes the ages we should be married, when we should have a “stable” profession and when should have accumulated a healthy sum in our retirement account. We can fall into comparisons of how we should be physically as well, especially in settings like at the gym or in a yoga class.
Being mindful of when we are falling into comparison (which is a form of self-judgment) is important. We can still strive to better ourselves in some fashion, we just have to be careful that it is not coming from a place of feeling inherently inadequate and/or needing external validation. There is a sweet spot in reconciling acceptance of who we are, as we are, and of setting goals for change. When we can integrate the two, we will have a healthier relationship with ourselves.
The ability to accept criticism in general is also important in keeping us away from unhealthy self-judgment. We will receive criticism in our lives. It would be nice if it were all delivered in a constructive manner, but that is not likely to happen. We have to be able to discern criticism for what it is: feedback from others which may or may not be accurate. We can consider the source and the content. We can view it as a treasure and even ask for more details about it that might help us─ or we can brush it off as simply an opinion. We just can’t let it crush us and we can’t turn it in to a permanent indictment of our inherent value as a human being.
The most harmful self-judgments are those which lie imprinted on our psyche, known or unknown, and which challenge our inherent value. These are wounds of shame and inherent adequacy. They may include internal statements mentioned like “I am not lovable,” “I don’t matter,” “I am not smart” or “I am not pretty” These may be first implanted at a very young age via any number of circumstances. The judgments of others in general sets up a bar of value comparison and we may turn against ourselves, triggering old wounds of inherent inadequacy. Removing harmful imprints of self-judgment requires work towards greater Self-Awareness as well as Healing processes. The dividends for removing these self-judgments are huge.
On a daily basis, we can watch the semantics with which we dialogue with ourselves to avoid self-judgments about our inherent value. These comments may be on a lesser scale and about rather mundane things, but they reflect the same Energy as those mentioned above. They can be statements like: “I am no good at computers,” “I suck at math,” or even “Why would anyone want to date me?” The all-or-nothing semantics of such internal dialogues reflects both a judgment and a life sentence of living that judgment out. It may be true that we are tech-challenged, for example, but we just want to make sure that we avoid black-and-white thinking about it. Instead of calling ourselves completely inept, we can say, “You know what? This computer program is new to me and I am still learning it.”
Beware of the language of “should” and “must.” The famous psychologist Albert Ellis admonished humanity to stop “shoulding” all over ourselves and to stop “musterbating.” The language of “should” and “must” is inherently judgmental upon oneself and is often in comparison to some societal value. If we say, “I must get married” or “I should be married by now,” we are judging and devaluing ourselves. Getting married might be a goal, like other goals you may have, but not something to which we tie our inherent value.
“The attentions of others matter to us because we are afflicted by a congenital uncertainty as to our own value. As a result of this affliction, we tend to allow others’ appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgments of those we live among.” -Alain de Botton
A Personal Struggle towards Non-Judgment
While writing this book, I came into conflict with my siblings regarding care of my elderly mother. At the time, I felt very judgmental towards them. I felt angry. I wanted to lash out at them. I felt disappointed in their care of our mom. I stepped into a “Little j Judgment” about my family, and this helped me move closer to Non-Judgment. The phrase “They know not what they do” came to mind during this time. It was, in essence, a “Little j Judgment” Jesus placed upon the people who were about to murder him. For me, he was saying to look past their behaviors, which were obviously not kosher, and see some greater value whereby they are worthy of forgiveness.
In life, we encounter many who “know not what they do” and this is basically a “Little j Judgment” we are making of their unconscious behavior. I find this is a step we may often have to take to get us to a place of Non-Judgment in general so that we can then operate from a place of Love and Reason and eventually see others in Divine fashion, no matter what their perceived crime or wrong-doing.
Empathy in the form of the Golden Rule supports Non-Judgment; we treat others how wish to be treated, and that includes not judging. Empathy can actually help us to have compassion for those who do judge as their judgments are often a method of expressing their fear or lack of understanding.
Acceptance of others or for ourselves as is allows us to judge less. It keeps us away from self-judgment by comparison. It helps us to let others live their lives according to their Truth versus what we think they should be doing.
Justice, ideally, supports a system that allows for fair and impartial judgment based upon behavior (see Justice element). Justice can also help us to be aware of own prejudices which contrast to Non-Judgment.
Respect helps us to see the value inherent in others by virtue of the Divinity that resides within all, regardless of how veiled it may be.
Wonder keeps us in curiosity and away from Judgment. With Wonder, we seek more.
Nature teaches us not judge. Does a lily judge a rose?
Mindfulness supports awareness if we are being in judgment of others.
Forgiveness can serve to release judgment.
Non-Attachment helps us to release our expectation of how others should live or be.
Love crowds out judgment.
- Mindfulness is a key practice in supporting Non-judgment. The day-to-day practice of Mindfulness is vital if we wish to catch ourselves when we are in judgment and release it. Practice noticing your own thoughts, without judgment. Remind yourself of the many ways in which you and all other persons— including your enemies and those who you simply cannot comprehend— are similar and connected.
- Day-to-Day cognizance and application of the Golden Rule─ treating others how we would like to be treated─ can serve as a primary mindset to guide us in Non-judgment.
- Write down the common statements of judgment that you place upon yourself. Next to each judgment, write down how you might reframe that statement to be less black-and-white, or at least less judgmental in some way. Stay cognizant of your internal dialogue as you replace self-judgment with reframed alternatives.
- Go to a place with heavy pedestrian traffic, a place that is good for “people-watching.” Notice any thoughts of judgment and tendencies to label which may occur as people pass. Then practice seeing people without judgment; just see them as human beings with no other labels applied despite basic descriptions. Finally, actively see each person without judgment. Instead, see them with a ball of white Light at their heart centers which represents their Divinity.
- Watch the semantics of blame and personalization in everyday life. Before attaching blame to others, ask yourself what your role or contribution may have been in the issue.
- When you challenge the opinions of others, practice challenging the opinion and not the person.
- Use “the counselor’s best friend:” those wonderful “I feel” statements. Use them in day-to-day interactions and communications with loved ones. Instead of judging, or saying something like, “You are an inconsiderate jerk” when somebody does or says something rude, we might say: “I feel neglected and alone when you don’t come home for dinner without calling.” Be specific.
- Practice the Carl Jung test. When frustrated or irritated by others, look inside and ask yourself: “What is it about me that is allowing myself to be irritated? What inside of me is triggered by this other person’s behavior?”
- Stop “shoulding” all over yourself and stop that “musterbating.”
I Wish Happiness for All Others; May All Others Live Their Truth.
I Release Judgment in this Moment and See Others as Divine.
Please Let Me Treat Others as I Would Want for Myself and Not Judge.
Please Forgive Me for the Judgments I Place On Myself and Others; Let Me Release These Judgments.
I Am Perfectly Me.
Let Me Not Compare nor Seek Validation nor Approval from Outside Myself.
Let Me Release Any State of Constant Judgment; Let Each Breath Release Judgment