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Why We Judge and Why “Stop Judging” Is the Wrong Goal

In an ideal world, we would move beyond our judgments and never judge others or ourselves again. Not only is that highly unrealistic, but we would also miss an important piece of insight into ourselves.

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A while back I was pushing my cart down the aisles of Costco when I spotted a family coming towards me. A family where every member, including their young children, were significantly overweight. I consider myself a very open-minded person and I know that multiple factors contribute to a person’s weight. Anything from thyroid and hormone issues, to turning to food as comfort rather than nourishment, all the way to using food as an attempt to soothe childhood trauma. Not to mention the fact that it takes significant time and money to cook every day and that junk food is highly addicting. It’s never as simple as “you should just eat less/healthier” and you won’t be overweight. 

But here I found myself judging. Their cart was overflowing with nothing but junk. Pop, chips, cookies and frozen processed foods. Not a single fruit, vegetable or whole food insight. 

As I glanced down in my cart seeing the wide selection of significantly healthier options, you bet I felt really good on that high horse of mine! For a moment, I could feel really good about myself at their expense. 

Where do I put you? 

As humans, we feel the need to “categorize” people. We either put them above us or below us. In our tribal days, this served us as we needed to know where we fit in the hierarchy. As with many other evolutionary parts, we haven’t evolved beyond this part either. 

The people that we put above us are the ones that we admire. Perhaps they’re public figures or outstanding citizens in our community. We judge them as better than ourselves. These people can do no wrong and we put them on a pedestal. 

Then there are the people that we put below us. People that are “doing it wrong”. It can be as trivial as rolling our eyes when someone chooses an iPhone over an Android, Windows over Mac, or Toyota over a Honda, all the way to bigger issues such as minimalism or consumerism, republican or democrats, pro-life or pro-choice. The bigger the issue, as in – the more we believe and identify with one side of the coin – the harder we’ll judge the people on the other side. 

We feel righteous in our judgment because they are the villain and we are the hero. We do this because it affirms our positive self-image. 

What judgments of others say about us

First off, all humans have access to the same personality traits. To highlight a few – persistence, kindness, courage, confidence, compassion, integrity, honesty, poise, as well as selfishness, jealousy, patronizing, moodiness, arrogance, childishness, flakiness and pettiness. 

What differs from person to person is the degree in which we have integrated this wide array of personality traits into our sense of self. 

Let’s start with the people that we look up to, the ones we judge as better than us. They present desirable qualities that we haven’t fully owned. If I admire a person for their courage, it means I likely don’t consider myself a very courageous person. 

For the people we judge ourselves to be better than, they present undesirable qualities that we’ve disowned. If arrogant people get to me, I’ve likely pushed this personality trait into what’s referred to as the shadow. It does not fit in with my self-image and I’ve disowned that part of myself.   

Ok, sometimes I might judge, now what?

In an ideal world, we would move beyond our judgments and never judge others or ourselves again. Not only is that highly unrealistic, but we would also miss an important piece of insight into ourselves.  

The key lies in becoming aware of our judgments. What is it about that person’s behavior, actions or beliefs that make me judge them? What personality trait are they demonstrating that you don’t consider yourself to have? 

Going back to the Costco example, what undesirable personality traits did I perceive in that family that caused me to judge them? I judged them as sloppy, stupid (they should know it’s not healthy), uncaring (don’t they want to best for their kids?), undisciplined, weak, ignorant, irresponsible, and self-indulgent. 

All traits that I try REALLY hard not to be. And yet, I can think of times where I’ve been ALL of those things. Plus, while I highly value a healthy lifestyle, I let my kids eat more junk than I care to admit.

Here’s a piece of humble pie. Open up wide, Sara. 

In this double standard lies our freedom to a future with less judgment. 

We judge in others what we don’t accept in ourselves. 

If I can become more compassionate towards the sloppy, stupid, uncaring, undisciplined, weak, ignorant, irresponsible, and self-indulgent sides of myself, I will also become more compassionate to the same traits in others.

No, it doesn’t mean I need to act on these traits and become all of those things. Quite the contrary, the more I can acknowledge them with compassion, the less control they have over me in the form of judgments towards myself and others. As a result, the personality traits that I want to demonstrate, such as kindness, compassion, and empathy will flow more freely. 

What do you judge in others? What insights might you get from looking at your judgments as a means for introspection? 

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