Here's a modest proposal: Vow that for the rest of the day, you won't judge your friends and you won't judge any strangers you happen to see. This would include a friend who's a non-stop talker. It would include a friend who's always complaining about his life. It would include the strangers you pass on the street or see in a waiting room.
I call this a modest proposal because I'm only asking you to refrain from judging friends or strangers you happen to see today. If you're like me, it's likely you won't make it past a few minutes!
So, why not just "judge away?" To answer that, let me start by drawing a distinction between judgment and assessment. Assessment refers to a neutral sizing up of our environment and the people in it as they are, period. Judgment is what we add to assessment when we make a comparison (implicit or explicit) between how things and people are and how we think they ought to be. So, in judgment, there's an element of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire to have things be the way we want them to be.
Take that talkative friend. To think or speak in a neutral, purely descriptive tone, "She can talk non-stop for 15 minutes," is an example of assessment; assuming the description is accurate, we're just stating the way things are. On the other hand, to think or speak in a negative tone, "She can talk non-stop for 15 minutes," is an example of judgment because that negative tone reveals our dissatisfaction with how she is and the implied desire for her to be different.
The same analysis applies to the complaining friend. If we say, "He complained about his life the entire evening," depending on our tone, it could be a neutral observation (assessment) or it could reflect our dissatisfaction with him and our desire for him to be different (a judgment).
Now think about strangers. If you're like me, there's almost always a subtle judgment waiting in the wings. "She could stand to lose some weight." "Doesn't he know how to pick a tie that goes with a shirt?"
So, again, why not just "judge away"? Recall that in judgment, there's an element of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire to have things (in my examples: people) be the way we want them to be. This is the essence of the Buddha's first and second noble truths. #1: We're dissatisfied. #2: The cause of that dissatisfaction is our desire for the world to conform to our liking.
So, judging others is just a recipe for suffering: start with our dissatisfaction over how a person happens to be and mix in our desire for them to be otherwise. To make that suffering nice and rich, be sure the desire clings tightly to the dissatisfaction!
It doesn't mean we have to hang out with someone who talks more than we'd like or who does nothing but complains about his life. But we can decide whether to be with them or not without judging them. When we do, it feels good; it has that freeing and peaceful quality of letting go of clinging to the way we want people to be.
As for those strangers, maybe the woman I saw has a medical condition that results in weight gain. Perhaps the man was wearing the only tie he owns. Judging them did nothing to ease their suffering and it certainly didn't ease mine.
Now try this experiment. Think about a couple of friends who annoy you in some way. Can you let them be the way they are without desiring them to be otherwise? Sticking with my two examples, can you open your heart to her talkativeness or to his constant complaining?
Walt Whitman said, "I contain multitudes." I like to think of the world as containing multitudes. I do this by consciously thinking: "This world is big enough for both the talkative and the untalkative; for both the complainers and the non-complainers."
Judging others is such a well-ingrained response that I hardly notice when I'm doing it, so I know I have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. But it's worth it because when I don't judge others, I feel the benefits in both my mind and my body: I feel as light as a feather.
Note: The theme of this article is expanded on in Chapter 14 ("To Cultivate an Open Heart, Set Aside Judging") of my book, How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.
© 2011 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com
Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.
I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers.
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