This is a statement to think about (it is one of many that I have stuck up on my wall): Judgment is the worst enemy of happiness.
Why do people think it will make them feel good when they talk about someone else behind their back?
I don’t mean the kind of positive talk between people when discussing someone else’s new job or move to another country or something that we admire or find exciting. It would be even nicer if we said that to the person directly, but I know that is not always possible. I also know that complete non-judgmental behaviour is almost impossible. I’m referring to that mean talk, when what is being said is not nice in any way. Even in the slightest. I mean when an opinion is voiced that is not necessary or does not contribute to anybody’s lives. I know exactly when I’m behaving in a way that I actually don’t want to, and it is not contributing to anybody’s happiness. Especially not my own.
I remember once talking to a dad from my kids’ school and he started saying horrible things about the teacher and how unhappy he was with the school. Although I could see where he was coming from, I was shocked by the way he described some people at the school as useless and compared them to pub-drinking Englishmen who finally felt powerful because their position gave them what they had never had before. I asked whether he had spoken to the teacher and the school, and his answer was that nobody listens anyway and there is no point. Instead he talked to me about the teacher and all the mistakes the school was making. And yes, I wondered what difference that would make. Did it make him feel better? Did this help his kids, who are essentially not getting the education he wished for? Should it discourage or encourage me?
I don’t believe that. I decided that I would either do something about it or keep quiet. And in this case, I am constantly trying to do my part in helping the school to be a better school by speaking up and being engaged.
What did any of us – the father, the teacher, even I – gain from him speaking in this way? Nobody should talk about someone else this way. Especially not in front of kids. And it makes me wonder, why do grown-ups still make the same mistakes they made when they were young?
I have decided that I will not say things about others behind their back just because I feel like it in that situation. Especially when nothing will come of it and I will just forget about it anyway. I know I don’t always succeed, but I catch myself doing it now. And I usually realise why I am doing it. In general, if someone or something affects me, I will talk directly to that person or I will see what I can do about it. Otherwise, I accept the person or situation as they are and do not let it affect me. Yes, it does take courage to speak up. Confronting people about a behaviour that I believe adversely affects me or my family is not easy. But it does make me feel better, and the other person is better off once it is said and done.
The problem with judging is that it does the opposite of what we think it will. Instead of making you feel better, it makes you feel worse in the long run or, in the case of the dad at school, most likely just makes him feel more miserable the longer his kids go to the school and the problem with the teacher continues. Think about it: when last did you wish someone else ill? Did it make you feel any better? Especially when it happened? My guess is not. On the contrary, you most probably felt guilty and tried to hide that feeling. You lied about it to yourself to make yourself feel better again.
Do you see how we are getting back to our values? It is my value to act honestly, and with integrity. For me, that means not talking about other people behind their backs. It is also my intention to share my positive comments with that person directly, so that we both feel happier.
Judging is something that we don’t often really see or realise that we are doing. As I said, I judged all the time as a teenager. I knew what I was doing. I even knew that it was coming from my own insecurities. Later on, however, I still judged, often without realising. I judged a girl at the office for wearing a very short skirt or showing too much cleavage. I judged a person at the supermarket checkout for taking so long. I judged someone else for having a large tattoo that I did not like, for having a nose ring, for talking too loud, for listening to music too loud or for voicing an opinion that I didn’t agree with. There are so many examples of it being so easy to be judgmental. I didn’t realise it was judging. How could I decide what was the right appearance or the right tone of voice, and why should I know better? I didn’t know their situation or their special circumstances. Honestly, often it just comes down to having different tastes.
Once I came to this realisation, I decided to make some changes. I would try to understand everyone else. I would try and understand their point of view, but somehow I ended up judging my own feelings. I excused someone for cutting me off in traffic and then still felt bad about missing my turn. I was making excuses for their behaviour, but at the same time I thought it was unfair to me. Eventually I learned to choose to be calm on the inside and neither judge nor feel bad about situations. It all came back to making the choice to be confident, confident in myself and my beliefs.
An extract from Chapter 2 of “It’s Your life – How to Choose Confidence” (Panoma Press) by Emilia Ohrtmann