Moving Beyond Judgment

Judgment can be seen as the opposite of love. When judgment is present, it cuts us off from love, or at the very least it confines love so that it can’t fully reach us. Judgment is looking at the world in terms of “right” and “wrong;” it’s a habit of approaching people and things and seeing them as “good” or “bad.” Looking at this in terms of addiction, we can frame our judgmental habits of mind as an addiction to the need to be right. What’s wrong with wanting to be right? What’s wrong with judgment? We all do it, right? Usually we don’t even think about it. If you’re like most people, you might not even recognize that you are judging. In fact, most of us are constantly judging. We judge people and things, ideas and beliefs, situations and experiences, as attractive or unattractive, as positive or negative. Brain scientists have studied how we react to things—all kinds of things: random objects, common phrases, faces of different races—and they’ve found that we humans make snap judgments about lots of things. Some would even argue that we judge everything we encounter, that we are in a constant state of reaction to our surroundings. Science has shown that for approximately 97% of our lives, we are simply reacting habitually to our environment.

People tend to automatically evaluate things as they perceive them. You might see a certain food and get hungry. You might see someone doing something and you experience an emotion—you make a judgment, you react. You might even judge yourself: You react to your own looks or behavior with dismay, criticism, or arrogance. These gut reactions are lightning fast, and are for the most part unconscious and unintentional. This behavior is part of your created self; it has helped you survive. Have you ever felt judged by someone? On what basis did they get their information? Is it possible the judgment was more about them than you? As the saying goes: “People will love you and people will hate you. And most of it will have very little to do with you.”

Again, the question is, does judgment really work? In my experience, judgment as a way of responding is a limited and limiting strategy when it’s unconscious, when we don’t see it for what it is. The problem is that our snap judgments create a predisposition for or against the thing or person perceived. They create bias. But because they are unconscious, we tend to trust these judgments like we trust our senses. They seem neutral or objective to us, when in fact they are not. Because our judgments are not neutral or objective, they are inherently limited; they are not the whole story. As such, they could be blinding us, keeping us from totally seeing the thing or person in front of us, from being fully present. And if our judgments are getting in the way of being wholly present, then they are also preventing us from experiencing love and connection.

Furthermore, when we’re judging unconsciously and habitually, we’re living and exemplifying duality. Those judgments and the decisions that come out of those judgments are based on a core belief that there truly is a right and a wrong, and so our feeling tone depends on where we fit into that scheme of things. In judging the world, we judge ourselves, trapping ourselves in this duality so that we must live either to be right or to be wrong. This keeps us feeling stuck in relative reality, rather than experiencing the oneness of ultimate reality. Fortunately, if we become conscious of our habits of judgment, we can change them. We do this first, by recognizing when we are judging; second, by evaluating the effect our judgment is having (does it work?); and third, by practicing nonjudgmental responses to our experience, ourselves, and the world. What happens when we do this? What happens when we shift from judgment to non-judgment?

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