First, the bad news: If you have a fondness for snarky jabs — and believe me, most of us take pleasure in the occasional barb — this column might ruin your fun. The good news is that understanding how and why we judge others, and trading that judgment for a little empathy and self-compassion, can bring more joy to our lives, families and relationships.
Most of us don’t realize how often we judge: We gossip about our boss’s new boyfriend, we look down on our neighbors’ parenting — the list goes on. One way to become more aware of how we judge is to understand why: We’re often motivated by a need to compare ourselves favorably with the people around us. We tend to judge others in areas where we feel most vulnerable or not good enough. If I’m constantly worried about being a great mother, I might be quicker to look down on another mom who misses the school play. When a colleague recently rescheduled a meeting for the second time, I found myself rolling my eyes; I had no compassion to extend, because I was still beating myself up for flaking on a work event the week before. In these moments, we take unconscious refuge in the thought, “At least I’m better than someone.”
You might be wondering whether a little judginess is always a bad thing. After all, sometimes it’s really satisfying to point out that others are screwing up! But judgment kills empathy. And empathy is what fuels trust and intimacy. How can we walk in others’ shoes when we’re busy judging those shoes?
It starts with showing compassion for ourselves. Only when we feel comfortable with our own choices — and embrace our own imperfections — will we stop feeling the driving need to criticize others.
Be mindful. Be awake to what you’re thinking, feeling, and saying — and why. It might seem awkward at first, but the next time you feel judgmental, stop and ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?”
Change your inner monologue. When I canceled that work event, I told myself, “You’re a slacker. You’re not dependable.” Had I said, “Life happens, Brené,” I might have been more empathic when my colleague moved our meeting.
Make a pact with a friend or a family member. Declare a judgment-free week — or, if you’re feeling brave, month. There will be long periods of silence; it’s a shocker when you realize how much “connecting” we do by talking about others. But asking someone you trust to join you will help keep you accountable — and help you change the subject.