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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean

The Quagmire of Judgment

Do you judge other people? Do you judge yourself?

We know what it feels like to be judged by another person. It doesn’t feel good. But we still do it to others and to ourselves.

I have long been aware of my own judgmental nature and the ways this judgmental tendency keeps me separate from others. My judgements create a sense of distance, which can help me feel safe, but I also feel lonely. I notice I am judging at some level . . . evaluating . . . everyone and everything, including myself most of the time, I'm just not generally conscious of doing it. When I become aware, my first reaction is, ironically, to judge myself . . . “Judging others is bad, and I’m bad for judging others.”

“To judge” can be defined as “a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion.” It can also be “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.”

When I use my mind to evaluate a situation and form an educated opinion based on discernment, I can detect whether something is good for me or not and then take the appropriate actions. Discernment helps me establish healthy boundaries and keep myself safe. I feel grounded and mature when I exercise discernment.

The challenges arise when I assert a binary value assessment . . . The other person’s characteristics, beliefs or behaviors are not just different than mine (or “not right for me”), but their choices and attitudes are bad or wrong (instead of good or right). The world isn’t black-or-white, obviously, but I lose sight of the reality that we are all different, and all worthy of respect, honor, and love. We are all doing the best we can with the upbringing, information and tools available to us.

It’s interesting to notice the role of judgment, evaluation or discernment amongst animals other than humans. Wolves, for example, may see each other as competitors for the same resources (food, mates, etc.), but that’s a survival instinct, not a moral yardstick. Wolves have identifiable alphas, the top dogs, and the betas who are second in line. Then come the deltas, and the gammas. Status determines who eats first, who leads the pack, and who keeps who in line. This allows naturally competitive animals to operate collaboratively. Chickens peck the heads or bodies of others of lower status, thus establishing the actual “pecking order.” Monkeys and apes also have social hierarchies. They express dominance over others by snarling, pushing, grabbing, and sometimes bopping others on the head.

Humans, being social creatures, want to belong and to know our place in society. We can identify the top dogs in our pack by how they talk to others, how much they direct others, and how many resources they’ve accumulated. We compare ourselves to them, and we do whatever we can to elevate our status, based on our evaluation and discernment. At the biological instinct level, higher status equals more resources, including mates, food, and power. We have even institutionalized our hierarchies in organizations, with a CEO on top, and a pyramid of power below them. Those on top tell those below them what to do.

We have the same drive as monkeys and apes, but we don’t bop each other on the head to express our dominance and power. We’ve gone underground. We’ve internalized this status assignment function, and we call it judgement.

When I judge another negatively, I elevate my own status. If he’s bad, I’m better than him. If she’s wrong, I’m right. That makes me feel better about myself. It’s a “dark pleasure.” If I put her down, I go up.

And the opposite works just as well. When I put another person on a pedestal, and see them as better, I get to feel bad about myself. This doesn’t seem like any kind of advantage but think of it this way: When my mother and father criticized me; I internalized that criticism in order to align with their opinion of me. I created an Inner critic who could perpetuate that function into adulthood. Similarly, when my parents used negative judgement against me, that’s what I took to be their form of love. So, judging myself as inferior or less-than and feeling bad or not-enough, actually brings me closer to a perverted, yet familiar misunderstanding of what love is.

When I judge someone, I basically label them . . . sloppy, inconsiderate, narcissist, asshole, idiot, anti-vaxxer, dumb or ignorant. “He is a real pain in the ass.” “You are really dumb.” “Those immigrants are thieves and drug dealers.”

As soon as I label a person, I am no longer able to see them as a complete, complex human being with a full range of personal characteristics: successes, failures, struggles, pain, joys, limitations, beauty, glory, passions, etc. Instead, I see the label I’ve slapped on them. They are no longer a whole person – they are a collection of sub-categorized parts, essentially sub-human, potentially an object of derision. In the extreme, this turns into verminization – labeling a group or class of people as pests – which must be destroyed in order for me to survive.

I not only lose my connection to the person or group I’ve judged, I also lose my connection to the part of myself that is like them. I can’t see, acknowledge, or have compassion for the ways I am doing or being what I see in them.

The ultimate result of judgment is a deep feeling of being disconnected and alone in the world. The separation from others, and ultimately from ourselves, manifests as a deep loneliness and turns us into blind seekers looking for anything outside of us to fill that hole. Some might find that drugs or alcohol brings temporary relief. Others may find it in food, casual sex, destructive relationships, religious fervor, spiritual bypassing, or over-work. We have so many pain relievers to choose from.

When we judge ourselves, we put ourselves into a box. It limits our self-expression, our joy, and our ability to connect to others.

Imagine, for a moment, removing the belief “There’s something bad (or wrong) about that person (or me).” Take it off and throw it away. Then imagine replacing it with the belief, “That person is different than I am, and just like me, they are a full-spectrum human. They have had difficulties and hurts, and they are seeking ways to be happy. Just like me, they are learning about themselves, life, and the world. I have no idea what is best or right for that person.”

This is the essence of compassion ­­– recognizing our common humanity. The box breaks open, and a real person emerges, someone we can relate to, understand, and have a relationship with. We become more fully human . . . I become more fully human . . . They become more fully human.

Instead of labeling yourself as less than others, not good enough, etc. (or better than others), consider this internal dialogue for a change: “Just like every other full-spectrum human, I’m a learning being. I make mistakes, which is how I learn and grow. I am a multidimensional being, a doorway through which Spirit, God, and Source manifests in the world. My soul is whole and unbroken. Souls cannot be harmed or destroyed. And my human nature is beautiful, including all my imperfections. I am a part of the Universe. I belong here, and I accept all aspects of myself and others as sacred and worthy.”

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