On a typical weeknight in college, I could usually be found huddled with a group of friends, chatting, laughing about the day’s events. Our conversations would often turn toward our teachers or peers, the ones we liked and those we didn’t. It was easy and enjoyable to crack some jokes and get a few laughs at another’s expense or to commiserate about a tough professor.
On one of these nights, something struck me hard. When the talk turned negative, I noticed that one friend would sit there completely silent. Didn’t say a word. I watched through the night as she came alive at other times and then went back to silence during the grumble sessions. This made a deep impression on me, and I wondered if I could do the same thing.
Over the years, I’ve tried to apply this practice in my life, and I’ve found it’s been a stepping-stone to something even better: not just keeping quiet, but also refraining from making any judgements at all (and no, I have certainly not mastered this).
Why do we judge? Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that we believe we’ll feel better about ourselves if we bring someone else down. But there’s often more to it than that. I recently read a blog post that says that we judge others the way we judge ourselves. I find this to be true. For example, if we value working hard to achieve a high income, we will judge ourselves by this metric and will think of those not pursuing this path as somehow inferior. The problem is that different people subscribe to different value systems. Maybe those we’re judging value time spent with family and close relationships far above career and income; to them, they are living life to its fullest. This is one reason not to judge; our values may be (and probably are) different from those with whom we interact.
Here’s another reason. I once worked with a very critical (and sometimes outright mean) individual. My reaction was to judge and gripe, complain and moan. I felt justified. Over time, I began to realize that the situation wasn’t improving and that I didn’t really feel any better. So I started to think about why this person was so spiteful and did some digging. It turns out that they did not have the love of their family. They had health issues, they felt utterly alone and in many ways hated themselves. After learning more about their situation, it became easier to have compassion. But the reason I mention the story is this: we simply don’t know the current circumstances of others, nor do we know what happened in their past to make them act the way they do. This is one more reason not to judge.
We should ask ourselves: what do we gain by judging people? Does it truly improve our lives? What if we were to reallocate that energy into something worthwhile, something that actually improved our character, minds, bodies, skills or talents in some way? What could we become?
When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself – Wayne Dyer
I want to give you an example of how these ideas can be applied with challenges that arise in our kids’ lives. A friend recently told me about a situation where her daughter was being taught volleyball by a former olympian. This coach was tough, extremely hard on the girls, but always gave advice that was effective in improving their game. The daughter appreciated the advice and was learning quite a bit until she started to be influenced by the other players who would often make nasty remarks about the coach. Her mom intervened with some conversations about how to conduct herself when the group dynamic turned negative. This young woman is now working to disengage from the negativity, staying silent as the complaints go on around her. Her game is improving again.
As we know, these situations don’t go away as we grow up. We keep finding them in the workplace or in other circumstances. But imagine how well-equipped to handle these situations our kids will be, imagine how strong they’ll be by the time they’re adults if they begin practicing right now. Not engaging in negativity is a beautiful start. Reserving judgment is an even higher ambition.
What do you think? Is this an important lesson for your kids to learn?