“When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears.”
– S.N. Goenka
I’m working on mastering judgement. Not the judgement of other people, but my own judgement, which can be suffocating.
When I judge myself poorly, I am unworthy. When I judge a situation as “bad”, I am a victim. When I judge another person, I am self-righteous. Positive judgement can be just as problematic. When I judge myself as “correct”, I’m showing myself where I will fail. When I judge another person as “good” I give them power over me.
Neuroscience says that our brains are binary machines. They perform rapid-fire decision-making using a process of comparison. It occurs without our even knowing it; it is how we form our idea of self in the world and among others.
I can’t eliminate judgement, but I can become attuned to it. Recognizing when I am sitting in judgement allows me to go deeper; to be discerning.
Who am I to judge?
I’m often hired to judge at dance competitions. By literally sitting in the seat of judgement, I’ve learned that it is both very personal and completely impersonal.
It’s personal in that it’s specific and self-centred to the judge. I am acutely tuned to aspects in others that I recognize in myself. This, too, can be positive or negative. I might see where a person is in their journey as a dancer because I was in that place, too – and that may make me sympathetic. Or I might see in another person a habit that I have worked hard to change in my own dancing – and I may penalize them for it. The brain is hypersensitive to its own experiences.
Judgement is also impersonal in that it’s generalized and normative. It holds no space for the individual, their context, their uniqueness. We judge against what “should” be, a concept that we have acquired through some process of learning. There is no such thing as objective judging; we bring our whole selves, both conscious and unconscious, to the act of judgement.
Is it true?
I like competition. There, I said it! I witness it motivate people to ask probing questions of themselves that they may not otherwise be inspired to ask. I see people move out of their comfort zones to do it and grow because of it. I watch students make healthy changes because through the competitive lens they see themselves differently. They want to become healthier, stronger, more balanced, more social, etc. I like competition because it does all those things for me.
But I also witness competition and judgement depress and degrade people. I see it grow walls between friends, spouses, and partners. The binaries of comparison can make individuality shameful. To survive it – to thrive in it – requires mastery of the judgement within oneself.
To master judgement, I need three skills:
- The ability to recognize when I am sitting in judgement. This work never ends; it’s a constant, sub-conscious/unconscious process that the brain engages in. I’ve learned to recognize its symptoms – how it presents in me.
- The ability to figure out what’s making me feel that way. Why am I sitting in judgement when I wasn’t hired to do so?
- The presence to ask myself (and to answer) the question: “Maria, is that true?”
Asking, “Is that true?” is the most useful skill I’ve learned as an adult. It transforms my outlook every single time because it demands discernment.
What’s your truth?
- Pick one thing that’s making you feel angry, sad, afraid, intimidated, or any other icky thing.
- Describe the situation in writing (you can destroy it later).
- Understand what judgement is associated with the situation. Tip: judgements can often be detected by binary thoughts or statements such as: should/shouldn’t; is/isn’t; can/can’t; will/won’t; always/never…
- Ask yourself, “Is that true?” Thinking again about the situation, write down only those things that are observable facts.
- Do the facts support your judgement? Rewrite the situation using only observable facts. How does the way you feel about the situation change?
I’d love it if you’d share your discoveries here!
- The Adult Chair podcast, “Stories & Assumptions”: https://michellechalfant.com/podcast/108
- Gabrielle Berstein, “How to Witness Your Judgement Without Judgement”: https://gabbybernstein.com/witness-judgment-without-judgment/
- My dance-blog article, “Judgement”: http://smoothstyle.ca/2015/10/judgement