Let go of judgment: five tips for letting love in
By: LEAH MCCLELLAN
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there. –Rumi
We humans categorize, name, and label things to make sense of the world: clouds are white, the sun is warm, dogs are furry, crackers are crunchy, roses emit an odor.
We attach names to things and group them together not only to understand the world but also to communicate about it.
We also add a value—good or bad—to the things we name: threatening storm clouds, miserably hot sun, wonderfully furry dog, lousy crackers, heavenly roses.
When it comes to people, we categorize, name, and label them too, not only with their given or family names, but also with descriptions of race, gender, age, marital status, and occupation: a Somalian woman, a British man, a young girl, a husband, a wife, a farmer, an engineer.
And just like anything else, we also place judgments on people: a beautiful Somalian woman, a talented British man, a homely young girl, a lousy husband, a cheating wife, an industrious farmer, a brilliant engineer.
Sometimes the judgments are fairly neutral or descriptive.
But we also place people into categories according to the emotions that rise up in us when they behave in ways we don’t like. Looking at the list above, I can easily imagine those same people in a conflict among themselves or with others and using words like bitch, jerk, brat, idiot, whore, redneck, and gearhead.
Those names say a lot more about me and the company I keep (or have kept) and the language I’m familiar with than the people the words describe. I admit I had to Google “nicknames for engineers” because I was only coming up with “anal retentive,” which is an adjective but I wanted a noun. Sorry, engineers. No offense intended. I’m just the reporter.
I’m sure, if I spent five minutes or so, I could come up with a long list of all the judgmental words—nouns or adjectives—that I’ve ever used or heard to describe people who don’t fit the values we want them to fit into.
There are a lot of reasons why we do this, but the main reason is because we see the world in a dualistic way—good or bad, right and wrong—and we want to place people into those categories. It’s what we’re used to doing, and we’re often eager to do it. She’s wonderful, he’s not. Et cetera.
Rather than thinking about what our own needs are, we place blame on others when they don’t meet our needs.
Blaming others is also a way of punishing them for not being who we want them to be.
By placing moralistic judgment on someone we withdraw compassion and love as a way to show our disapproval. We want to show other people—whether it’s the person in the line of fire or our friends or family—that someone does not fit our values and expectations. We may do it to show anger or to show hurt, and we do it to blame because we aren’t taking responsibility for ourselves.
We also judge because we’re in the habit of judging. But when all is said and done, our judgments only reflect ourselves, not others.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life, says that “certain ways of communicating alienate us from our natural state of compassion.”
The first “life-alienating” form of communication is moralistic judgment. Moralistic judgment implies wrongness or badness on the part of someone who doesn’t act in accord with our own values.
How often do you judge people or do “name calling?” That’s what placing judgment on others is, when we use words to do it, although “name calling” is a term usually used for elementary school students: “Johnny, don’t call Susie names. It’s not nice,” a parent may scold.
An hour later, that same parent is on the phone complaining about a useless teacher, a miserable boss, a neighbor who’s a gossip, or lazy kids.
What about you? Do you place judgments on others?
I know I do. I used to do it a lot more than I do now but with practice (years of it), judgments are almost always in my thoughts only, though they may leak out in my attitude or indirectly in my words. I’ve worked on my awareness of that tendency and, these days, after I’ve thought something negative about someone—while driving, for example—I take a look into myself to see what’s going on.
1. What am I feeling? Why does this person disturb me so much?
Sometimes we get angry just because someone doesn’t fit in with our sense of morals and values. It could be “habit energy,” as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. It could be something we learned from our parents or friends, and it became well-entrenched in us. Racial hatred and bigotry falls into that category. Simply finding fault with others can also be a habit. In some cases, we’re hurt because we need and expect a certain treatment or behavior from someone and, when we don’t receive it, anger is triggered and we don’t know any other way of handling it.
Sometimes, if we’re not at peace—tired, hungry, anxious, depressed—the things people do may affect us in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.
2. What do I really need?
To use driving as an example, since most of us do plenty of it, every driver in my ideal world would be courteous. He or she wouldn’t startle me, would always use turn signals, would never tailgate, and would always take turns—first come, first served—at four-way intersections with stop signs. What I need is calm and peace, but guess what? I’m responsible for that, not anyone else. It’s nice when other drivers are courteous, but when they’re not or don’t appear to be, it’s still on me to maintain my inner peace and compassion.
3. Is this person capable of giving me what I need if I ask for it?
Other drivers aren’t capable of giving me what I need, whatever it is. They act as they do for their own reasons, and so does everyone else, in general. Strangers can’t, though they might. Many friends give me exactly what I need, very often. Other times not. My closest friends almost always do. In some cases, though, someone I thought was a friend (or someone I expected to provide what I want or need from a friend) can’t give me what I need. In that case, it’s on me to decide if what they give is sufficient to continue the friendship or association or not.
If someone can’t give me what I need, it doesn’t mean he or she is a bad person.
4. What is the other person’s situation or viewpoint?
If we let go of judgment, we can see more clearly. How can we see the bright light shining in someone if we’ve labeled him or her a jerk or nasty or miserable or stupid? As long as we hold onto that label, our vision is clouded. We might even be treating the other person in such a way that encourages precisely the behavior we don’t want. I kept that in mind during a conflict I had with a veterinarian awhile back. What she was doing had nothing to do with me, and though the situation was extraordinarily difficult, withholding judgment (or I should say not reacting to it and practicing non-judgment and compassion) allowed me to maintain my peace and clarity and, eventually, she began to let go of her hostility.
5. What can I do to replace this judgment with compassion?
Become aware of it, first of all. Recognize that our judgment is only about us, not the other person. We don’t know other people’s reality, we don’t always know why they behave as they do, and we don’t know how we may be affecting them. If we remind ourselves—practice the knowledge—that other people are just like us with weaknesses, fears, worries, concerns, and needs, even though their needs may be quite different, we can let our natural compassion rise up and give love a chance to shine through and see people in a completely different way.
Not everyone can give us what we need. But we can let go of judgment and feel kindly toward others (or at least remain neutral) and find our own peace and compassion in ourselves even if we don’t care to spend time with them or expect them to give us the things we need in our lives.
Have a Blessed Week
Love & Light
The Spirit Way