Judge­ment call

When we judge oth­ers, we learn a lot about our­selves

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - BREATHING SPACE -

HEN you judge an­other,” said the late Earl Nightin­gale, “you do not de­fine them, you de­fine your­self.” These oft-quoted words of wis­dom came to mind re­cently when I read a story about the rise of ‘mum-sham­ing’ on so­cial me­dia.

For the unini­ti­ated, mum-sham­ing is a phe­nom­e­non whereby fe­male com­menters pass cri­tiques on other women’s child-rear­ing choices.

The so-called ‘sanc­ti­mom­mies’ are know-italls. They’ve read a small li­brary of par­ent­ing bibles and they’re quick to con­demn any moth­ers who might not be bring­ing up their chil­dren by the book.

There is no map for par­ent­ing, but the sanc­ti­mom­mies seem fairly con­vinced that they have the ex­act co­or­di­nates. For­mula-feed­ers should be breast feed­ing; free-range par­ents should be prac­tis­ing more dis­ci­pline; stay-at-home moth­ers should be work­ing. The charge sheet goes on and on, ad nau­seam.

What I find es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing about the sud­den tor­rent of mum-sham­ing is that it seems to be ris­ing in tan­dem with an­other par­ent­ing phe­nom­e­non: ‘mum guilt’.

You could ar­gue that moth­ers have al­ways grap­pled with guilt. but you’d have to con­cede that these feel­ings have in­ten­si­fied in the al­ways-on dig­i­tal world

It’s an ugly state of af­fairs, but here’s the ques­tion: Is the rise of mum-guilt a re­sponse to mum-sham­ing, or is the rise of mum-sham­ing a re­sponse to mum-guilt? Put more sim­ply: are moth­ers pass­ing judge­ment on one an­other be­cause, deep down, they can’t stop judg­ing them­selves?

This is the the­ory that Brené Brown puts for­ward in Dar­ing Greatly. “If I feel good about my par­ent­ing, I have no in­ter­est in judg­ing other peo­ple’s choices,” she writes.

“We’re hard on each other be­cause we’re us­ing each other as a launch­ing pad out of our own per­ceived de­fi­ciency,” she adds.

The late Paul Valéry Flame­tree put it even bet­ter. “Our judge­ments judge us,” he wrote. “And noth­ing re­veals us, exposes our weak­nesses, more in­ge­niously than the at­ti­tude of pro­nounc­ing upon our fel­lows.”

We’re al­ways told not to pass judg­ment on oth­ers but, let’s face it, that’s like be­ing told not to think of a pink ele­phant.

Snap judg­ment is hu­man na­ture and it’s not a habit that we can over­come sim­ply by try­ing to be rid of it.

We have to go a lit­tle deeper than that and use judg­ment as a tool to ex­am­ine our be­liefs and be­hav­iours. We have to ex­plore the un­com­fort­able feel­ings that we might be try­ing to avoid. Are you in­tim­i­dated, en­vi­ous or re­sent­ful? Are you judg­ing oth­ers be­cause you’re scared of be­ing judged your­self ?

A judge­men­tal spirit can be over­come with a lit­tle self-in­quiry. Here’s a few point­ers:

You’ ll no­tice that the peo­ple with the loud­est in­ner critic are gen­er­ally the quick­est to pass judge­ment. Those who prac­tise self-com­pas­sion, on the other hand, are less in­clined to crit­i­cise oth­ers. If you’re a judge­men­tal type, try en­gag­ing in

π Prac­tise self-com­pas­sion —

kinder self-talk. When you give your­self a break, you’ll nat­u­rally give oth­ers a break too.

Our in­built neg­a­tiv­ity bias makes it very easy to fo­cus on a per­son’s short­com­ings. How­ever, when we fo­cus on a per­son’s bet­ter na­ture, they tend to act ac­cord­ingly.

“When you’re tempted to judge some­one, make an ef­fort to see their good­ness,” writes Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson. “Your will­ing­ness to look for the best in peo­ple will sub­con­sciously bring it forth.”

π Look for the good in oth­ers —

π Recog­nise how it makes you feel

— Cast­ing judg­ment can sup­port so­cial co­he­sion (bitch­ing is bond­ing, and all that) but you’ll no­tice that the feel­ing is short-lived. When we fo­cus on the good in oth­ers, our spir­its feel bound­less. When we fo­cus on the bad, our spir­its feel bounded and di­min­ished.

π Look for un­der­ly­ing is­sues —

Some­times we judge oth­ers when we don’t know how to rec­on­cile a cer­tain is­sue within our­selves. Is your judg­ment a ‘pro­jec­tion’ — an ego de­fence mech­a­nism we use to deny the ex­is­tence of feel­ings in our­selves by at­tribut­ing them to oth­ers? Or could it be ‘dis­place­ment’, which is what hap­pens when we shift our neg­a­tive feel­ings onto a less threat­en­ing sub­ject? We only break free from the judg­ment cy­cle when we hon­estly ask our­selves what we might be try­ing to deny or de­flect.

π Re­frame your per­spec­tive

— Those who are less in­clined to judge oth­ers are usu­ally bet­ter at recog­nis­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity. They can see the in­ner child in a dif­fi­cult par­ent just as they can see the fright­ened em­ployee in a dom­i­neer­ing boss. When we ap­proach sit­u­a­tions in this spirit, we tend to choose com­pas­sion over judg­ment. Or the say­ing goes, “Every­one you meet is fight­ing a bat­tle you know noth­ing about. Be kind. Al­ways”.

π Dig a lit­tle deeper —

Gabrielle Bern­stein, au­thor of Judg­ment Detox, says we’re less likely to cast judg­ment when we es­tab­lish com­mon ground. “The next time you’re with some­one you’ve judged,” she writes, “in­quire about their life, their in­ter­ests. When you get cu­ri­ous about an­other per­son, you recog­nise your sim­i­lar­i­ties and can con­nect.”

π Ex­plore non-judg­men­tal aware­ness —

Peo­ple in mind­ful­ness cir­cles of­ten talk about wit­ness­ing “with­out judge­ment”. They might no­tice the colour of the sky with­out com­par­ing it to the weather yes­ter­day, or they might no­tice the sen­sa­tion of run­ning wa­ter against their fin­gers with­out think­ing of all the dishes they have to wash. Non-judg­men­tal aware­ness is a sim­ple yet pow­er­ful prac­tice that keeps us an­chored to the present mo­ment. It is also proven to lower our “emo­tional re­ac­tiv­ity”, which leads to less judg­ment, and more un­der­stand­ing, in our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

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