Even if you’ve never been in a courtroom, you’ve probably seen it portrayed on TV before. There’s usually an audience, maybe a jury, defendants and plaintiffs, and then there’s the person who sits above everyone else, appointed to decide what happens to people who make mistakes through their supreme ability to judge others. That’s what the judge does—-forms an opinion and decrees this is the right order everyone will obey.
Sounds kind of harsh, but sometimes we can be harsh, like the judge, without realizing it.
When you make a mistake, what do you say to yourself? Do you think, “It’s okay, I’ll just figure out how to make this right again,” or do you think, “You are so stupid! You are such an idiot! How could you make such a pathetic mistake?” Do you let it go pretty quickly, or do you spend the rest of the day thinking about how you messed up? Maybe it depends on how big a mistake it was. Maybe it depends on how the rest of your day is going.
Most people have a Judge inside their head. Well, we can conceptualize this “tendency to judge” as a character called the Judge, but really the Judge is just a part of the emotional habits we have learned throughout our life. In Buddhism, we call these “habit energies,” and they are all our default reactions and feelings that are learned and often misinformed. For example, a habit energy may cause you to yell at someone and say harsh things that you don’t mean, and which you later regret. Habit energies are a part of us like all emotions, but just as we learn these habit energies at a young age, we can learn how to let them go. All of our thoughts and emotions are part of who we are, and they are informed by our experiences in life, internal and external. Even the unflattering parts of ourselves are still a part of who we are. So, for the sake of this article, I will refer to the “Judge” inside us, but know that even this—-the parts of us who judge ourselves and others—-is still a part of us: it’s just a matter of if we let that part of us be active or inactive. It’s about choosing the seeds inside ourselves that we want to water.
So, most people have a Judge inside their head. Predictably, this is the part of us that draws conclusions about ourselves and others. It says, “She should break up with her boyfriend,” and “That outfit is ugly,” and “He is very worthy of that promotion.” A lot of times the Judge gives its opinion where its opinion is not very necessary. Gossip is usually the result of many Judges hard at work. Judges like to make bold claims and say absolutist statements. A lot of times, a judge will overstate or understate the facts to reinforce their argument, or ignore facts altogether.
I used to have a very strict Judge employed inside my head. But rather than judging others, it judged myself. When I waited tables at the restaurant, and I accidentally sent an order to the kitchen wrong, I would get so mad at myself. “You are so stupid! How could you mess this up? You do this every day and you are still making these dumb mistakes and inconveniencing your fellow employees! And now your table will be upset with your stupidity, as well.” I would really punish myself over the smallest error.
Looking back, I feel sorry for that younger version of myself. It took me a long time before I realized I don’t have to do that to myself, that beating myself up wasn’t necessary or helpful, at all. Sure, it’s good to know when you make a mistake so that you can know how to be better in the future, but mistakes are inevitable. We are human beings, and we are going to make a lot of mistakes. How I choose to speak to myself is entirely up to me. I can say, “Well, you should have double-checked your notepad for correctness, but that’s in the past now. Now it’s time to problem-solve and move forward.” Or, I can spend the rest of the shift wallowing in my own pathetic self-hatred for no reason and for no benefit. It’s all about the choice we make in our head.
When we feel a lot of pressure, our Judge wants to lash out at any opportunity. If you are under pressure at work to cook food faster, and you accidentally burn something and it sets you back further, your Judge may be ready to strike. “This is horrible! You suck!” it may shout inside you, and in the heat of the moment, you become emotional and lose our cool. Realize that the Judge is probably just trying to sabotage you. It wants you to feel like a victim, like a smaller version of yourself. Don’t let that judge have that power—-you are the Judge, and you can reroute any of the things the Judge says to you. The Judge exists inside your head. If your first thought is, “Ugh! You are so bad at this!” think of a way you can reroute your thinking. Perhaps, reply with, “Well, I’m not bad. I’m just figuring this out. It’s just flipping eggs.” When our Judge becomes very loud in our head, it fogs our thinking and makes us feel frustrated. We have to recognize when we are becoming frustrated (a habit energy) and try to steer our thinking in a different direction.
It takes a lot of practice, but you can be more patient with yourself. It will help a lot. I still find myself growing frustrated with myself when I make a wrong turn on the freeway and have to go out of my way to correct it. But I let it go a lot quicker than I used to. I let myself feel the annoyance—-“Gah! This is annoying.”—-but then I smile at myself and try to move on. Going back in my head and punishing myself for what is obvious in the present moment won’t help the past change at all.
What about how the Judge views other people? Oh boy. While we can be critical of ourselves, we can be very critical of other people. And actually, passing judgment on others can be just as toxic to ourselves as judging our own actions and feelings.
When we judge someone, we are not opening our hearts to them. When we see someone struggling at something seemingly easy, and think, “They are pathetic,” we are not looking at them with eyes of empathy and trying to figure out how we can help them to do better. We are passing a judgment and not trying to relate to them. We are drawing a line between Them and Us, and deeming them as inferior and ourselves as superior. We are assuming and making an easy, harsh conclusion. Life and people are far more complicated than that, though.
It can be tempting to judge, and it may be totally subconscious at this point. People pass judgment all the time. “She is ugly.” “He is rude.” “That lady is nice.” “That boy has a terrible work ethic.” To a certain extent, judgment may be necessary—-if someone asked you what your friend is like, you would describe her as compassionate, funny, and motivated. But the difference is that you have spent much time getting to know her and listening to her soul, and your judgment is well-informed and coming from a place of love.
If we are tempted to pass judgment on others, it may be because we need to take a look inside ourselves. Perhaps we feel insecure, but the way that insecurity manifests is through passing judgment and making ourselves feel like we are better than others. In middle school and high school, I’m sure we all knew somebody who was mean to others, but their cruelty seemed to be driven by their misguided way of coping with their insecurities.
Sometimes, we pass judgment on how we think other people should handle situations. Maybe someone we love is engaged in a toxic relationship. “Why are you with him?” we may ask. “He is bad news!” But the person we love will not listen to us, and they continue to see this man. We may grow frustrated, and angry at the person we love because we have told them the answer, but they ignore it. “How could you be so blind? You are being foolish!”
This can be really hard to deal with. But we must realize that we can give someone the most insightful advice in the world, but unless that person is ready and willing to help themself, they might not even hear what we are saying. And if we let ourselves continually judge them, we are frustrating ourselves and creating a division between us and that person. Sometimes, yes, we do know what’s best for someone else. Sometimes the answer seems to clear to us. Maybe someone we love is suffering because they have a negative outlook on life. We tell them, “Quit dwelling on the negatives! You are so lucky!” But they continue to let the same things ruin their days, and we grow upset with them for perpetuating their own problem. The hard thing to accept is that it doesn’t matter if we know better than others unless they want better for themselves, too. That’s something they have to choose, and they have to work hard for themselves. It stinks seeing people suffer because they won’t solve their own problems, that only they can solve. Judging them will not help, though. It will make us suffer because we fixate on what they’re doing wrong, and it closes our heart off to our loved one.
People live in their own perceptions, and sometimes those perceptions are seen through very dark sunglasses. If you have a loved one you are tempted to judge, ask yourself a few things. Will judging them make their situation better? Will expressing your judgment through subtle or obvious ways make that person feel better, or that they can come to you for help? Does judging them help you understand what they are going through? Please try to be a good friend to your loved ones. But also, if that loved one becomes a negative presence in your life because they continue to perpetuate problems, sometimes you need to remove that person from your life and move on. It’s sad, but it’s for your own well-being. You need to make sure that you aren’t suffering because of them, as well.
We also pass judgments on strangers, too. If we see a man standing on the side of the road holding a sign that says he needs money for his kids, we may think, “That man is probably a scam artist! I bet he doesn’t even have kids. He just wants money for booze!” Maybe this is true, but if we want to exercise our compassion and look deeper into the hearts of the individuals in our community, we could ask ourselves, What if he really does have kids that he needs to feed? What if he doesn’t use the money for booze? And if he does use the money for booze, why does this poor man need alcohol so badly? What has he been through? Why does he have to live like this? It’s easy to write off people we know nothing about and make simple judgments. But once we think deeper, we start to feel more connected with others. That could be us on the side of the road—-if we hadn’t been born into the life we have, we could easily be that man. Maybe if we were in his shoes, we would make the same choices he made, because that’s all we would know.
I think that quieting our Judge can lead to a better quality life. Rather than focus on what everyone is doing wrong, we should focus on ways to understand each other. When we understand someone, we don’t get angry at them for not living life the way that we would if we could control them, and when we understand someone, we are able to help them do better in a way that will best speak to them. When driving, we might be tempted to think, “This person is going so slow! What an idiot!” but maybe they are cautious because they have lost a loved one in a car accident before. Passing judgment creates divisions among people and within our heart. When we judge, we assume we know best, and a lot of times, our assumptions are so misguided.
So now, Judge, what is your ruling? Will you sentence yourself to self-inflicted suffering, or will you work towards a more understanding internal voice and cooperative community where people consider the complexities of life and help their neighbor? It’s your call—-you’re the Judge.
For more reading on mindful living, such as ideas on self-love, self-empowerment, managing your feelings, and conceptualizing your sadness, check out this page, only on Slanted Spines!
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