Judgment is pervasive throughout society and such a natural part of being human. It can be extremely helpful for certain things, such as when a decision needs to be made or in order to maintain peace, order, and civility. We also use it in numerous other ways, both consciously and unconsciously, that seem to be normal and helpful, such as
- To develop personal preferences, likes & dislikes
- In building or defining our self-concept
- For organizing, prioritizing, and establishing frameworks that we use in life
- To make ourselves feel better or criticize, berate, and tear ourselves down
- To influence our actions, re-actions, responses, beliefs, and behavior
But to what extent does judging serve us?
Let's start with a well known Taoist story...
There was a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.” And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.
Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.” The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came in to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”
Source: Tao: The Watercourse Way, by Alan Watts
Life unfolds in ways we can't predict, imagine, or understand, and often it's not until we can look back on our journey that we're able to make any sense of it. It's as if there is a far greater intelligence than our own guiding each of us on our own unique journey, leading us through a vast array of circumstances, challenges, and opportunities. I've found that the more I insist on controlling life and judging vs. accepting what happens, the more hardship and difficulty I experience. If I can choose to accept what "is" at any given moment - albeit not always an easy thing to do, I feel more aligned with life and at ease. The greatest power and choice comes from seeing that I create my own suffering by needing life's circumstances, experiences, and outcomes to be a certain way other than exactly what they are.
The implications of judgment can be quite far-reaching, as in this example:
Ignaz Semmelweis - Hand Washing Saves Lives (Lived 1818 to 1865)
The story of Ignaz Semmelweis is tragic on a number of levels. Firstly, there are the women who died who shouldn’t have. In 1847 Semmelweis, who was an obstetrician, (a doctor specializing in childbirth) published evidence that when doctors washed their hands before examining or treating patients, the mortality rate for women in his birthing ward in Vienna, Austria, was greatly reduced.
In his hospital doctors were routinely examining diseased corpses in the mortuary, then attending women in childbirth without first washing their hands. In some months, as many as a third of the women in the birthing part of the hospital were dying!
Semmelweis could not explain why hand-washing was effective – he didn’t know about germs – he just saw that it worked and that patients no longer caught fevers and other diseases.
The second tragedy is that although Semmelweis cut death rates in his own hospital, his attempts to spread the word failed. Many people died because hand-washing was not made a routine part of hospital practice.
The third tragic part of the story took place in 1865. Semmelweis had become clinically depressed when his work was rejected and he had started behaving oddly. He was lured by another doctor into an insane asylum in Vienna. Realizing it was a trap, Semmelweis tried to get out, but was held and badly beaten by guards and placed in a straight-jacket. He died two weeks later, most likely from injuries he suffered during the beating.
With Semmelweis gone, the fourth tragedy is that his hospital got back to running ‘properly’ again, discarding his ‘crazy’ ideas. Mortality rates increased by a factor of six, but nobody cared.
How is judgment impacting your life?
Take for example how I considered myself a "socially anxious" person for many years. I judged myself, my worth, and my ability to be interesting and of value to other people in various interactions. For the most part, I was not even conscious of this, instead over time leaning more and more on the label than my part in creating my experience and my reality. As a result, I avoided many social situations, kept silent, and did not step into my potential and authenticity in building and improving relationships and discovering opportunities and new possibilities for connection, collaboration, love, and contribution.
Whether it's assuming something about another person based on a first impression, not giving thought to an idea because of where it comes from, choosing not to hear something or try something new because you already know everything there is to know, or listening to the voice inside your head telling you to play small because you are not good enough, capable enough, or resilient enough; the implications of each and every judgment we make, regardless of how small it may seem, affect all areas of our lives.
What might be possible if you chose to approach even one thing each day without judgment or preconceived notions, open to explore and discover a new reality and new possibilities? Where in your life might you be making judgments that are holding you back? Where do they come from? Have you questioned them recently? Might there be more to see or realize?
While judging judgment is a slippery slope and every day we are all inclined to make numerous judgments about all sorts of things, with a wide array of outcomes, my hope is that we can all agree on three points:
- Judgment is not Truth.
- There is enormous potential with each and every judgment we make to construct limits or limitations on ourselves, our lives, and our world.
- These limits and limitations are almost always made up and are not facts or abiding truths.
What's the alternative?
Curiosity. Openness. Beginner's Mind. What wonders and possibilities might we discover when we come from a place of curiosity and non-judgment, and step into embracing the unknown?