Paying Attention to Judgmental Thoughts
Excerpted from Says Who?: How Asking One Simple Question Can Change How You Think Forever by Ora Nadrich
"If you judge, investigate." — Seneca
Just like someone cutting you off in traffic can trigger an automatic thought like, “What an idiot!” (or something with more expletives), sometimes we don’t need something rude or aggressive to occur to evoke a thought or reaction in us that can be surprising or throw us off guard.
You can walk into a party, a business meeting, or any social situation, and find yourself having a visceral feeling about someone you’ve never met before, and a negative or judgmental thought about them suddenly pops into your mind. It could be, “This person is dull or boring,” or, “They’re pretentious or a snob,” or, “They’re unattractive,” or even, “They’re too attractive.” I could go on and on with the type of thoughts we have about others (and some of them can be really nasty), but I think you get the idea.
We make snap judgments about people without knowing them based on how they look, act, or even how they speak. But how we perceive someone, especially if it’s immediately upon seeing or meeting them for the first time, may be directly linked or connected to our beliefs, which, as we now know, affects our thoughts and our behavior. Based on what those beliefs are, they can influence or distort our perception about someone we barely even know. That’s not to say that someone can’t be off-putting or offensive in their behavior when we meet them, and no matter what our beliefs are, they just rub us the wrong way, and we don’t feel drawn to them, period. If you can subscribe to the Buddha quote “Recognize others as yourself,” then maybe you can be more forgiving or tolerant of others shortcomings or inadequacies, but not everyone chooses to see others as possessing aspects of themselves, as unattractive as that may be.
Sometimes we need to use discernment rather than harsh judgment when it comes to identifying certain characteristics in someone, and if they’re undesirable or distasteful to you, and you don’t happen to agree with Buddha’s sentiments, recognize how you feel and move on. Not everyone has to be each other’s cup of tea. But sometimes you’ve made up your mind about someone a little too quickly, and if they aren’t offensive or off putting as far as you (or others) can see, you might want to look a little further as to why you feel judgmental, and quick to dismiss them.
Our thoughts are largely made up of opinions, values and judgments. How we see ourselves, and others, is entirely based on what we believe, and our beliefs are formed early on in our lives as a result of the experiences we’ve had, positive or negative. How others have influenced us also affects our experiences and how we come to know things, which also helps shape who we are, and can sway our beliefs.
As adults we’re pretty set in our beliefs and accept them as real for us, which I’ve explained become our core beliefs—that is, the main ideas we have about ourselves and others. The good news is that we live in a free country, and nobody can tell us what to believe or what not to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are always accepting or tolerant of each other’s beliefs, which can be the reason why we are judgmental of others because of our differences. Politics is always a hot topic when it comes to people’s differences, and if you and your friends have different political views, you know it’s probably a good idea not to discuss them over dinner, unless you’re prepared to get into a heated debate or argument, which, if not handled respectfully, can spoil a good evening if you let it, and possibly even a friendship.
But judging others quickly without really knowing them well is important to pay attention to because you might find something out about yourself that can be both revealing and valuable, and help you get to know yourself better. For some people, their reason for being judgmental of someone can simply be for superficial reasons, like how they’re dressed or even wear their hair. But judging someone because of the way they look can be shallow or narrow-minded, and by challenging those thoughts through the Says Who? method, you might find out that you’re a superficial person, and maybe want to consider changing that about your character because, deep down, you’re not proud of that.
Just like asking yourself the Says Who? questions about your negative thoughts to find out why they’re in your mind and if they’re real or not, using the method to investigate your judgmental thoughts will also connect you directly to your beliefs, which are what’s controlling your thoughts. It’s a good opportunity to find out what you’re carrying around in the judgmental beliefs department.
Republished with permission.