When walking the streets of a busy city or causally having a cup of coffee at a bustling airport, it is easy to pick up on feelings of judgment coming from those around you. Similarly, when you are in a crowded subway station or having dinner with friends, you form opinions about the strangers that you encounter. The human brain has naturally evolved in a way that causes us to judge other people based on the outward characteristics that distinguish them from ourselves. Yet, by unconsciously judging others and allowing thoughts of separation to roam freely in our heads, we limit our abilities to experience more authentic feelings of human connection. New York Times bestselling author and distinguished research professor Brene Brown thoughtfully tells us that:
Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
Since we all share the ultimate goal of finding unwavering levels of fulfillment, it is imperative that we discover how to move beyond our conditioned ways of judging others. To live life with enduring feelings of happiness, we have to find a way to live in connective harmony with those around us.
Judging Others is Natural:
Psychological studies and scientific research have proven that the habit of judging others is a natural function of the human brain. There are a number of biological and psychological reasons for judging others, and only by first understanding the brain’s rationale for labeling based on appearance will we be able to break free from our judgmental ways.
Since the most basic biological instincts of all human beings are to survive and thrive, each of us naturally and instantaneously makes judgmental assumptions about the people that we encounter as a way to assure our safety. Researchers at Dartmouth College and New York University have shown that even before we can consciously analyze an individual’s face, our brains begin the process of labeling them as either trustworthy or not. When you couple this safety-driven biological function with the fact that the brain has a natural bias to focus on the negative, which helps us solve problems and thrive, it becomes easy to see how judging others can lead to feelings of separation.
From a psychological standpoint, there are also a number of relevant reasons for our brains to naturally judge others. As we grow up and accumulate individual life experiences, each of us begins living with a subjective viewpoint of the world that revolves around our own personal values, beliefs, and logical reasoning.
Whenever we see others acting in discord with how we personally think people should behave and dress, we begin to question their decisions and form negative assumptions about them.
In addition to this tendency to look at others from a subjective perspective, we are also exposed to cultural ideals that we use as comparative references for the people that we encounter. For example, many of us negatively judge others who are overweight, short, or not financially successful because they don’t live up to cultural standards set by advertisers.
But is Judging Others Right or Useful?:
Even though the process of judging others is a natural function of the human brain, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is useful or right for us to do. While spiritual sages would agree with the assumption that judgment is a natural cognitive function, they would tell us that, as individuals, we are in fact much more than the thoughts that roam freely in our heads.
Within each one of us is a part of ourselves that spiritual gurus describe as pure consciousness, unwavering present-moment awareness, or the true self, and at this level of our beings we have the ability to watch judgmental thoughts in our heads from a place of disassociated objectivity. For you to rise above the mental pattern of judging others, you will have to begin more readily living from this place.
To help you begin living as your more naturally spiritual self, you can ask yourself the following questions that have been designed to shift your unconscious perspectives about judging others. These questions, which should be answered using both spiritual and psychological insight, can be especially useful to ask when you are in busy public places and notice judgmental cognitions racing in your head:
1.) Is judging others useful for my well-being?: While there are times when the act of judging others does serve the purpose of protecting us from dangerous situations and circumstances, the fact of the matter is that our biologically driven tendency to negatively assess the creatures that we encounter was largely passed down from primitive ancestors who lived alongside animals such as sabertooth tigers. Today, however, this need to judge every moving creature isn’t what it once was. Obviously, you should keep your judgmental guard up when you are in truly potentially hazardous situations, like when you are walking alone on a dark street late at night, but otherwise, you should consciously aim to look for a connection in the people that you encounter.
2.) Who is the judger?: Once you become aware of the condemnatory thoughts that roam freely in your head, you can begin the process of disassociating yourself from the mental habit of judging by asking yourself ‘Who is the Judger?’ When you step outside of yourself and objectively analyze the brain’s natural cognitive tendency to judge, you will come to realize that you are in fact much more than your judgmental assessments and can consciously make the choice to not identify with them.
3.) Who am I judging?: Spiritual wisdom tells us that our assessments of others are invalid because of the constantly changing dynamics of the individuals that we judge. The human body at the most microscopic level, for example, is nothing but small waves of energy moving together in a synchronized way. Furthermore, an individual’s style, clothing, and social roles don’t warrant judgment because they are constantly changing and were created through a chain of karmic events. The only truly stable part of all beings is their naturally unwavering, albeit unseeable, present-moment awareness or consciousness.
4.) Where would I be if I was in their shoes?: By judging others without first putting yourself in their shoes, you remain ignorant of the fact that human development is largely based upon the environmental upbringing of individuals. Since you were not subjected to the same experiences as others, you will never see the world from the exact same perspective as another. If, however, you were subjected to the exact set of experiences of an individual that you are judging, you would very closely resemble the person that they have become.
5.) How was I acting/will I act at that age?: One of the reasons that we judge others is because of behaviors that are typical for a particular age group. Teenagers, for example, have a tendency to behave in ways that cause us to label them as naive, and senior citizens upset us for moving too slowly. In instances such as these, it is important to remember that individuals largely act in accordance with the life stages, which we are all subjected to, that they are going through.
Living Beyond the Judgmental Self:
In addition to analyzing our judgmental ways and questioning the legitimacy of our claims, we can take supplementary steps to work towards rising above the natural cognitive habit of judging others. There are a wide variety of spiritual and psychological practices that you can undertake to help move you towards living beyond your judgment self:
- Discover Your True Self: By taking the time to connect with your deeper nature in meditation and increasing your spiritual understanding, you will naturally begin to understand how every human being, regardless of race, sex, religion, or class, is connected at the deepest level of reality.
- Use the Power of Intention and Attention: After you have formed the intention to rise above the mental pattern of judging others, you can use the power of attention to restructuring your cognitions of judgment. If, on a regular basis, you ask yourself questions like the ones listed above and explore the answers within yourself, you will assuredly become less judgmental. It is especially important to pay close attention to the negative consequences that result from judging others and the positive effects that come when we feel open and connected to those around us.
- Remember the Ultimate Spiritual Truth: In the mystical lands of India, the phrase Namaste, which translates to mean ‘the divine in me respects and honors the divine in you,’ is a common greeting that is used to remind individuals how each and every person is in fact the same. At the deepest level of everyone’s being lays a level of pure consciousness that is not superior or inferior to anyone, but rather equal to all. By consistently reminding yourself of this truth, you will begin to feel connected to everyone that you encounter.
- Invest Time with Different Groups of People: Since most people commonly associate themselves with others of the same race, religion, sex, and class, it is easy for them to form negative judgments about groups of people that are not similar to them. By taking the time to associate with people who have different interests, ethnicities, and faiths, you can come to see how the negative labels we give each other don’t typically match the people that we encounter.
By using any of these practices, in addition to asking yourself the five questions we explored previously, you undoubtedly can rise above the mental pattern of judging others and begin to experience more life-affirming feelings of connective harmony with those around you. Since finding fulfillment is your ultimate goal, you should make it a priority to search for connection with those around you by relinquishing the need to judge.