How to Not Judge Others

I’ve come to realise that one of the things that make me unhappy is my judgments about other people. Very often, this makes them unhappy too! How to not judge others is simple in theory, and very difficult in practice. Judgment comes to us so naturally that it takes conscious effort and a lot of practice to stop doing it. Here’s what I’m reminding myself to do.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

1. Focus on the behaviour

“If you judge, investigate.” – Seneca

Behaviours are observable, while intentions are not. Yet we jump quickly from an observation of a behaviour to a judgment about it. Usually, it’s the judgment that makes us upset and not the behaviour itself. If we focus on the behaviour, we are less likely to judge and get upset. Here’s an example.

Behaviour: “He didn’t buy the bread like I asked him to.”
Judgment: “He thinks looking after the family is my job, not his.”

2. Take action, preferably ourselves

“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” – Paulo Cuelho

In the above example, it’s easier and less upsetting to say “Could you run out and get some bread now?” than “You need to start caring more about this family!”

Even better, we could run out and buy the bread ourselves. Or call him to remind him to buy the bread next time. Focusing on what we can do rather than what others can do is a much less frustrating way to live!

3. Consider the whole story

“We take it for granted we know the whole story – we judge a book by its cover and read what we want between selected lines.” – Axl Rose

I’ve been reading books by some Tour de France cyclists, who point out that the world’s perception of them is based on just a few media soundbites or visuals. Even if we want to judge a person, it is fair only if we consider the entirety of their lives and not just a few selected moments.

Using the same example, count how many times your husband forgot to buy bread compared to how many times he did that and other errands for the family. As long as the good outweighs the bad, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal!

4. Look for counter-examples

“I am not without fault, but I am not without goodness either.” – Richelle E Goodrich

Just because someone doesn’t do what we want doesn’t mean they aren’t trying their best. Maybe he forgets to buy bread all the time, but looks after the family in other ways.

I find that this works well for me, since focusing on the good in another person quickly dissipates my negative judgments. It also humbles me since I realise that I do not possess many of the good qualities the other person has.

5. Reflect on ourselves

“What you say about others says more about you than them.” – Michael Josephson

One of the hardest truths I’ve learnt is that we don’t see people as they are. We see them as WE are. If you get upset with your husband (for forgetting to buy bread) because he thinks looking after the family is your job and not his, then very likely it is you who thinks that looking after the family is his job and not yours.

Byron Katie calls this realisation the “turnaround” in her life-changing book Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. Every judgment we make about others is actually a judgment about ourselves. Of course we can try not to judge ourselves either. But that is beyond the scope of this post on how to not judge others.

Further reading

I wrote an earlier post about the difference between Offensive Judging and Defensive Judging. It was written in a much more light-hearted tone and elicited a giggle when I re-read it.

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