Poster of a frowning yellow cartoon face, held up by two hands.

The Upside of Judgment

I’ve been thinking about judgment a lot lately. It’s something we do so naturally as humans, and it’s especially easy to judge others right now, isn’t it? I judge people for not wearing masks, I judge people for being Republicans, I judge people for being more concerned about the media-hyped “looting and burning” than they are about Black lives.

But I also judge people for much smaller offenses:

That person who fails to use their turn signal, causing me to get stuck behind them for an entire green light cycle? “SELFISH”

That person who leisurely walks across the road in front of me as I’m driving down the street, or pulls out of his driveway despite oncoming cars, forcing others to stop and wait for him? “SELFISH”, “ENTITLED”

That person who drives slowly in the left lane, oblivious to the backup behind them and causing everyone around them to behave less safely? “SELFISH”, “CLUELESS”

My neighbor who washes his driveway, literally washes his driveway with a hose, every single morning? “WASTEFUL”, “SELFISH”

* * *

Doing a quick scan of my go-to judgments, it’s clear that selfishness is one sin I cannot tolerate. My reaction is visceral, I feel it in my belly. How could you be so selfish? The state is burning down, water is not an infinite resource, how can you possibly think it’s okay to waste so much of it every day??? Get a broom for god’s sake. Just get a broom.


Clearly this one is still a struggle for me, but I’ve been working on my judgments a lot lately. I’m participating in a training program that’s all about uncovering and diminishing the power of our Saboteurs, those internal voices that get in the way of our growth and happiness. It turns out that the Judge, that voice that is constantly finding fault with ourselves, with others, or even with circumstances, is the ringleader of that internal chorus.

So I’ve been paying more attention to my Judge lately. Being on the lookout for that voice has definitely been uncomfortable, because it’s made me realize I’ve been living in Judge-mode all day every day. It’s automatic to the point of invisibility. But with awareness comes the ability to shift things, and over the last few weeks I find myself being less judgmental, both of myself, and of others. It’s so interesting what happens when your internal landscape changes. Everything changes.

* * *

When I was out for a morning walk last week, I saw a woman running toward me with a phone in her hand, looking down at it constantly. Normally I judge the crap out of people for doing this because phone addiction is a thing that really bothers me, but this time my immediate response was quite different. Upon noticing her, the first thing that floated to my mind was “I’m so grateful I don’t have to do that”. I felt deeply grateful for the fact that I routinely leave my phone at home while I’m out for a walk or doing other things, that I get to have uninterrupted time with myself and with nature.

It was such a nice moment. Gratitude is a much richer experience than the fleeting sense of superiority I would normally feel in that circumstance. And the truth is, I have no idea what’s going on in that woman’s life. For all I know, the only way she can get out for a run is to endure the compromise of still being available for either her job or her children. Maybe getting out for that run represents a victory of independence and self care on her part, and here I am judging it as not good enough. Or perhaps she simply is addicted to her phone, like so many people are. In which case, she is deserving of my compassion, not my judgment. I’ve struggled with plenty of addictive behaviors over the years, and still do to some extent. I’m just grateful tech addiction isn’t one of them.

On the same walk, another woman ran by, another woman I would typically judge on sight. “Why have you made such efforts to look good when you’re out for a run?” my Judge would usually say. Why the makeup and coordinated sports bra and pants? And surely if you’re so hot you need your whole torso exposed, it doesn’t make sense to be wearing full length pants. Why aren’t you wearing a t-shirt and shorts like a real athlete?

To be fair, I live in the Marina in San Francisco, which has got to be the world capital of athleisure, so my Judge has had a lot of practice critiquing this particular ensemble. This time though, my thought was simply “That’s a great colour, she looks really nice.” It’s pleasing to look at beautiful things, and by removing my Judge from the equation, I was able to simply appreciate her well coordinated outfit and fit frame.

* * *

There’s another layer to this though, something I’ve also been exploring lately. When I’m triggered by other people, when something about them really gets under my skin, I’m asking myself what that says about ME, rather than what it says about them. Sure I have strong values around substance over style, and am disheartened by what feels like an ever increasing pressure for women to look perfect and sexy and instagram-ready at all times, but it’s not just that. There’s something deeper.

What is this woman doing that I do not give myself permission to do? 

She is out in the world, trying her hardest, even when she is exercising, to look her best. To be bright and shiny and pretty, and to show off (oops, there goes my Judge again) how nice her body is. Hmm. No, that’s not really something I give myself permission to do. That’s not something that feels safe to me. When I do look my best, when I do my hair and wear make up and put on an outfit that really highlights my body, I’m uncomfortable with how much both men and women look at me. I feel judged and on display, and that doesn’t feel safe for me. It makes me want to hide. So I feel resentment when I see other women doing something I don’t give myself permission to do.

I resent her freedom to shine bright. 

And let’s be real, I’m probably never going to go for a run in the most on-trend outfit and a full face of makeup, because that’s just not who I am. But I do get a lot of joy out of playing with clothes and accessories, and I would LOVE to be able to go out in the world looking (and feeling) my best, and spend exactly zero energy agonizing over how other people feel about it. My sense is that if I keep quieting my own Judge more and more, I’ll live in less fear of being judged by others.

And that is definitely a worthy goal.

* * *

So what are your go-to judgements? And what might they say about YOU? If you dig deep, you may find that they help you clarify your values and practice gratitude, or they may be an opportunity to explore some of the ways in which you are holding yourself back and living out old stories.

Exploring the driving examples from earlier, I can’t imagine a more unwelcome quality in my family than selfishness or a sense of entitlement. Those were trained out of me from a very young age as just about the worst things a person could be. “Don’t always raise your hand to volunteer or answer a question Karen, because one of the other kids might want to do it”, that sort of thing. And while that was all very well-intentioned, it resulted in my borderline obsession with how my own behavior might be impacting others, and a reticence to take up any space whatsoever.

So there’s something for me to work on. And while it’s always important to be conscious of our impact, for those of us who have been conditioned to play small and not take up too much space, we may have something important to learn from the more “selfish” and “entitled” people we see all around us.

So here’s to exploring your own Judge, and may they lead you toward greater self-knowledge,