“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.” - Albert Camus, The Fall
I was on a drive to a doctor’s appointment for one of my kids, and it was a long drive for an undesirable reason. Needless to say, my mood wasn’t great, and I was behind a car that was covered in bumper stickers. Since traffic was piling up, I was able to take a leisurely gander at the reading material on the car in front of me. Soon, I forgot all about the traffic and on crept my judgy pants.
It seems as if every single magnetic sticker adhered to the back of this vehicle brought an automatic eye-roll to my face. As I sat through lights changing from green to red without so much as granting me movement of a few feet, the judgments started pouring into my head. As I put on my signal to turn into the driveway leading to the office, the sticker-tattooed car made the same move. We pulled in, spaces apart and walked into the building within steps of each other.
I Thought I Had Her Figured Out
While sitting in the waiting room, I visually assessed the victim of my judgments, unsubstantially confirming in my head what I saw on the bumper stickers. As we made small talk regarding the slow moving traffic at this time of day, something hit me. I became aware of how judgmental I was being of a woman I didn't even know. Right then I knew that I needed to toss my judgy pants and pay attention to the dangerous direction in which my thoughts were headed.
As she started talking, asking about my daughter and how old she was, I realized something quite mundane; she was a person, a mom, just like me. I felt my face flush, as if she could read my mind, seeing the irrational judgments going through my head. In reality, she probably had no idea, and yet I felt the need to start rambling incessantly as if to create interference and block her mind-reading of my thoughts. When she got called into her child’s appointment, it gave me time to think.
I was not comfortable with how quickly my assessments of this stranger starting pouring into my head. I have no place to judge, as I am no worse or better than someone else. Sure, I didn't agree with the statements on the car. However, simple disagreement over someone's beliefs gives no excuse for the critical thoughts that were going through my stream of conscious. My point is, it wasn't my business and my safety wasn't in danger, so what good was it doing to judge her?
It Made Me Pause
This situation gave me an opportunity to look at my judgy pants, which over the years have softened, yet still stick in the closet, ready for wear when fear gains momentum. We often judge to protect ourselves, to protect our deepest shadows, and to hide our fear that our imperfections may be discovered.
If we condemn what we are scared to become, we are denouncing that part to ourselves loud and clear, denying it ever existed in our souls. One who grew up being shamed for boasting, can grow to detest it in others. Hearing even a healthy proclamation of another’s achievements can set off a deep-seeded trigger of shame, causing one to completely put down that other person as doing something wrong, shameful. The more we can outwardly say how wrong something or someone’s behavior is, the further we keep ourselves from ever becoming like it. It makes us feel safe.
I have set of expectations for myself that are rather idealistic and cause me to be incredibly critical of my own actions; perhaps more critical of myself than of others. I am all for having high standards and always working towards improvement. However, these perfectionist ideals leave little room for compassion and run mostly on fear and insecurity, creating the constant need to prove myself.
If my less-than-perfect behaviors are identified, I may not be worthy of love, trust, respect, or even simply, the good things in life. Even worse, if it is revealed someone is better than me, then somehow they are more deserving of these good things, taking away from my ability to receive the same goodness. Therefore, I must identify how others are not living up to my ideals (since my ideals are the standards by which I judge myself), and then I will be exonerated for not being perfect.
It might seem overkill with such an analysis, but if we really think about it, why do we need to concern ourselves with the lives of others if they are not hurting us?
Compassion Over Judgment
When we give compassion instead of condemnation, we break down the walls that keep fear alive, that keep our insecurities needing a place to hide. We give understanding, knowing at one time or another, we have all done and said things we wished we hadn’t. It is one thing to judge for your safety, or make a judgment on a healthy space. However, snap judgments, labeling and classifying, these are often knee-jerk reactions to protect ourselves from our own insecurities, and only darken the shadows we wish didn’t exist.