Putting the ‘mental’ in being judgmental

the importance of maintaining perspective


We all do it: judge other people – hold them up to our standards and rate their performance. Feel like we’re better than them. Or feel like we’re worse. Maybe we look at ourselves through the eyes of another and find ourselves wanting. Feel like we’re failures. Judgment is such an intricate part of society, of the functioning of our brains that you probably spend about 99% of your life in its presence without ever stopping to notice. But why?

A case study: Judgment in parenting

My wife and I got married young and had kids young. We had no idea what we were doing and had to figure it out as we went along. Personally I think we’ve done a pretty decent job. Our kids are happy. But boy, you know what? If you’re looking for a crash course in judgmental, go check out your nearest parenting group. Literally EVERYONE has an incredibly strong set of reasons why 1) you and your parenting suck and 2) they on the other hand are awesome. This despite the fact that the balance evidence shows all of these opinions are ridiculous [see below]. Fortunately I don’t really care what people think and my wife is – by now – pretty chilled out as well. But I’ve seen people crushed, thinking they’re bad parents, thinking they’re failures because of the hyper aggressive banter they heard at the mums group. Why is this? And what makes the parenting-bully so sure of themselves? Are they even that sure? Come to think of it, why do we judge peop

parenting outcomes - compare and contrastIt’s natural to do it. It’s your brain’s way of coping with the world

I’ve written about this before – basically your brain is at sea. It has no idea what is good brain at seaor bad, what’s fast or slow, what’s clever or stupid. Everything you think you know is an artificial construct. A value judgment. To make you capable of functioning in the world at some point your brain has to slap a label on things so it knows what is what. To know what’s good it has to create a bad. And so it will, it will look around you and even if there is no absolute ‘badness’ around it will come up with something. You could be Mother Theresa, living in a flatshare with Nelson Mandela and Ghandi, but at some point you’ll see one of the others fail to replenish the milk or say ‘pardon’ when sneezing and you’ll label them bad and the other one good. It’s basic human nature. Just remember…

Just because you do it doesn’t make it right. Keep in mind that you know nothing. About anything.

I’ve written before – this is dangerous. You don’t have any right to decide who is good or what’s bad. You don’t even know what an apple is, so you certainly don’t know anything about politics or society or god or the rights and wrongs of rap music or gay marriage or the wearing of baggy pants (except for harem pants, which are an unrefutable evil). In fact, all you have is a giant bunch of opinions that you think is hard knowledge. Your whole life is a house built on sand that you think is concrete because you heard it was concrete at church/in the papers/on TV/from your parents etc etc etc. And what’s dangerous about all of this is that the half baked opinions you make, and the labels you put on things get adopted by others, for right or for wrong.

So just keep that in mind before this

this is harmless. if silly.

this is harmless. if silly.

becomes this

I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't say this

I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t say this

So if you’re the person judging, step back and ask yourself

How do I know that the person in front of me is bad? How do I know why they behave the way they do? Given I don’t know the first thing about anything, how do I know what it feels like to be them or what complex emotions and history and hang-ups and issues contribute to their every thought and action? Are my convictions based on something real? Or am I just wheeling out my own hang-ups and prejudices and beating others round the head with them to make myself feel better?

And if you’re the person being judged?

If you understand why someone is judging you it doesn’t make it hurt less. It doesn’t make it ok. I’ve had my share of feeling judged, like a failure, unworthy, insecure. It f****** sucks. In fact it maybe makes it easier if you think they’re a douche. You can take comfort in your innocence, your martyrdom. In a strange way, you can now make them ‘bad’ and you can be ‘good’. But in the same way think – why are they judging me? Do they really dislike me or are they themselves insecure? Damaged? Confused? Does labeling me a geek, or calling me fat, or sounding off about gay people or muslims or supporters of another political party make them in some way feel better about something they’ve got going on internally even if they themselves don’t realize this?

Some quotes for the day

I love the Tao Te Ching, I think it’s awesome. And I think it’s got a couple of awesome quotes in it that I always try to live my life by. Basically the message is this: no-one has any idea about anything. Your opinion of others, and theirs of you, are meaningless – as inconsequential as the smoke from a blown out candle. You can’t stop judgmental banter, it will always be there. But if you keep this in mind, maybe it’ll be a bit easier to bear and a bit easier to avoid?

Anyway, that’s what I think.

Care about people’s approval, and you will be their prisoner
– V9, Tao Te Ching

What difference between yes and no… between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous
– V20, Tao Te Ching

When you are content to be simply yourself, and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you
– V8, Tao Te Ching

Because [the master] believes in himself, he doesn’t try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn’t need others’ approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.
– V30, Tao Te Ching

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