Children in my part of the world have a saying: “If you say it onto others, you say it onto yourself.” But it is not until they grow up that they realize the true weight of these words.
We all judge others, it’s a habit. We like to judge. There is even an industry catering to our needs – the show biz. What we love about shows like American Idol is not the performances but the ability to judge those performers from the comfort of our couch. Heck, we even judge those “judgemental” judges. It’s a real thrill.
Judging is closely related to a Buddhist notion of “discriminating wisdom,” which refers to our mind’s ability to perceive all phenomena ‘as it is‘ and its ability to discern how it is all interrelated. This is our power to act in ways that are most beneficial to sentient beings at any given time. However, because of our ego and its inability to experience non dual nature of reality we tend to cling to concepts and build relationships with them, often times elevating our own superiority. This is what unenlightened judgement really is: “I know better, I am better, but if I’m clearly not better then I know who’s better than you, because I’m smart this way.” Ego, too, works in mysterious ways.
Mind like a Projector
A projector can not project something onto a screen if it doesn’t have a film inside. Same with our minds. We project onto others our dominating qualities, or the so called karmic imprints we harbor inside. This is why gossipers are always neurotic about others are talking about them; thieves always have to watch their back; rage-aholics always find themselves in the middle of conflict and so on. In other words, we clearly see the faults in others because we have the same ones inside. And if we secretly or even subconsciously hide our faults we are sure to attack them in others. It is what Carl Jung called the “shadow.” These exactly the aspects of oneself that one finds intollerable.
We might be pretty proud to think that we can actually control our emotions and we get very judgmental when others can not. For example, I used to get very upset at my spouse for constantly talking about her fears. I berated her for acting like a child and worrying about “non existing things,” but then eventually I had to question my own behavior just to realize that she’s adding on top of my own insecurities, that I can hardly control. The only difference between us was that she was wearing her fear on her sleeve and I had it tucked away deep inside my kidneys (traditional Chinese medicine believes that certain organs are related to emotional activities and it is kidneys that are associated with fear.)
When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself. Perception is not reality. What appear to be faults in others may actually be reflections of our own emotional afflictions. I don’t have an attitude problem; you have a perception problem. Remember, the way people treat us is their karma. The way we react is our own. ~ Trulshik Rinpoche
What is moral is not always legal, what is legal is not always moral
Another argument for being judgemental is that “we should protect what’s moral.” The only problem with that is when we judge based upon morals we judge based upon limited, conceptual morals that are not absolute (no ultimate law or conduct).
In some cultures having three wives is neither legal, nor moral. Same arrangement in other cultures might be legal and totally moral. In some cultures beating those wives would be criminal but yet in other cultures it is both legal and morally acceptable. Even morals about taking someone’s life can be complex in certain instances. For example, would it be moral to kill Adolf Hitler while he was still playing in the sandbox? On one hand, if we just wanted to torture and kill a child for our own pleasure it would be one thing but if we compassionately slit his throat because we knew we would be saving millions of lives would be a totally different matter. To make it even more complicated, imagine you’re actually a passing observer of a scene like this. What would be your reaction?
As you see, many times what defines whether our actions are moral is our intent and motivation. So how can we judge others when we don’t fully understand the motives behind their actions?
Then even if we think we know the true intent we can go a step further and say “Poor guy, he did it out of pure greed and ignorance. He’s sure to pay the price in this life or the next,” or “Wow, poor gal, she’s so difficult with me for ten minutes but imagine what’s its like for her to live with herself 24/7.”
Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight. – Traci Lea Larussa
Point out potential, not the faults
One of the most admirable traits of a true critic is not the ability to put down but to uplift by pointing out one’s potential and the need for hard work to improve. For example, my teacher would never say “You need to meditate more, you lazy bums, or you’ll always stay this dumbfounded till you have nothing left to think with!” Instead he’ll say “I can tell by your radiant smiles and relaxed faces that you’re making progress. Keep at it and the taste of freedom will grow stronger every day.’ Those in the room who haven’t been as diligent would immediately perk up by their teacher’s confidence in them and have a new sense of resolve because they have an image to live up to. These are fine and subtle ways and they are very effective.
Keep a good style
Ultimately, due to the relationship between the projector and the film, people who judge others tell more about who they are, rather than who they judge. So keep a good style. Thread lightly and approach a situation through the discriminating wisdom, rather than a judgemental mind. This way we can expect an easier life filled with good company and meaningful insights.
If you are willing to try this out then next time you catch yourself habitually judging someone, I invite you to ask yourself two simple questions: 1. What specifically bothers me about this person? 2. How do I relate with those same qualities in me? I believe you’ll find some illuminating insights. We learn so much more by planting the question within rather than casting the judgement outside.