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Who Are We Judging?

July 15, 2011

Who Are We Judging?

It is easy for us to make judgments about people. In fact, it might be so close to us that it almost feels like a skin. Indeed, we must constantly assess the behavior of others to decide a myriad of things, like whether or not they are trustworthy, honest or dependable. What happens, however, when our need to discern begins to expand? When we take our need to assess and have that evolve so that we declare ourselves experts on judging other people’s ideas or religious choices, or begin to make decisions about them based on the style of their clothing or hair, let alone by the color of their skin or their ethnicity. Are we using our ability to make distinctions to its best end, or has it run away with us?

I was in a class once with a teacher who taught me to make a fist and point a finger at someone and declare a judgment about that person; an assessment that would diminish this person’s standing in my eyes, or that would cause me to distance myself from that person. I was asked to look down at my hand and notice that three fingers of my fist – or maybe even four, if you want to count the thumb – were pointing right back at me.  My teacher was expressing that it is quite common that when we are pointing out something in another that we don’t like or we think should be better or different, that we are really pointing to a quality or trait in ourselves; one that we don’t like. It is so much easier to point our finger at another than it is to acknowledge our own weakness or vulnerability.

Next each of the students was to ask ourselves if we might possess the very same characteristics or engage in the same behaviors as those we were negatively judging in others. If the answer was yes, we were asked to restate our remarks in the first person, with the caveat that we were to add compassion for ourselves for having this vulnerability or trait. We then were asked to re-approach the person we judged with this new-found knowledge about ourselves, and see if there would be a difference in the way we addressed them. In every single situation, the interactions were much more kind, with a level of accountability that was previously not present. In some situations, nothing was said at all, because the speaker realized that there was no longer anything to judge. In this process we began to take responsibility for our less desirable behaviors by telling the truth about them, taking action to better ourselves in those arenas and in having greater compassion for our own weaknesses as well as the imperfections and vulnerabilities of others.

The world is filled with people and behaviors that can potentially grate on us and cause us to become judges of someone’s character. It is easy to point a finger, essentially saying that we are better, we know better, we do better. It is much more challenging, and ultimately much more rewarding, to take a deep look at our own humanity and compassionately and rigorously work to improve it, and then direct our insights to accept the differences of others beyond our reach, and  work with those who are willing to kindly coach them into a better version of themselves.

Robin Damsky

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