HAVE YOU EVER SEEN something left where
it shouldn't be and thought, "Who is the idiot who left
this here?!" And then remembered it was you?
I have. And you'd think that would cure
us forever of our natural tendency to wrathfully assume bad intentions
or carelessness or stupidity when others do wrong. But it didn't
cure us, did it?
Studies show that when you make a mistake,
you'll emphasize the circumstances that made you do it.
But when someone else does something wrong, you think
it's because they are a jerk. That's regular language. More accurately,
when you make a mistake, you will probably think it was because
of the circumstances. But for others you probably won't be so
lenient. You'll attribute more of the cause to the person's character
or personality. You'll assume they did the wrong thing
because they have a personal weakness or character flaw.
That's the natural tendency. You aren't
a slave to that, of course. You can know about it and do something
about it. You can give people the benefit of the doubt deliberately.
You can try to think of all the times the person has acted in
your best interests in the past and weigh the odds: Were they
really out to get you or did they just make a mistake? You can
remember times you made the same mistake and regretted it later
and assume the other person will do the same. There are lots
of ways you can compensate for your mind's natural tendency to
pass judgment on others.
Which one should you use? All of them,
and try your best. Passing judgment doesn't help you. It doesn't
help the other. It doesn't help your relationship. It doesn't
help anyone in your life. In fact, it harms all of these. Your
judgment sparks a mild (or even intense) anger. That's not good
for your health. It puts stress hormones into your system that
strain your body. It doesn't help the other. When has it ever
helped you when someone thought you were a jerk? Sure,
it helps sometimes when someone tells you about a mistake you've
made. But it helps you most if they do it with forgiveness and
understanding rather than judgmentalness and condemnation, right?
So passing judgment harms your relationship.
The anger and bad feelings it causes, even if it's mild, interferes
with you two being open, trusting, loving, kind, having good
feelings for each other, etc.
And passing judgment is actually bad for
everyone in your life, because the state it puts you in doesn't
go away right away. So you carry it with you when you go home
and talk to your spouse, your friend, your kid. It might be mild,
but it's there and doesn't need to be. Just as you can housetrain
a dog, you can "housetrain" your brain. Teach it to
do the unnatural. Teach your brain to compensate for it's automatic
judgmentalness. You will be happy you did.
In an experiment by Dolf Zillmann at the
University of Alabama people volunteered to ride an exercise
bike. At some point, each volunteer is treated rudely by one
of the other volunteers (but who is really part of the experimental
team). Later, the volunteers got the opportunity to get back
at the rude person (by criticizing him in a written evaluation),
and they sought revenge.
There were two different groups going through almost identical
experiences, but in the second group, this difference was added:
After the person was rude to a volunteer and then left the room,
someone else came up and explained to the volunteer that the
"rude" person was stressing out because he or she had
oral examinations coming up for a graduate degree. In this version
of the experiment, the volunteers were still given the opportunity
to take revenge for the rudeness but chose not to. Why? They
were given an explanation.
You can create an explanation yourself for the behavior of others,
or even better, you can find out. I used to work at a place where
one of my customers was a really nice guy but kind of odd. One
time one of my co-workers criticized the customer for being odd.
She had clearly judged him without ever wondering WHY he might
be that way. When I told her about his experience in Vietnam
(he was shot through the head and suffered brain damage) her
harsh judgment of him completely vanished and was replaced by
guilt for ever having thought those things about him.
Remember that next time you pass judgment on someone you don't
know well. Not even for their sake. Remember it for YOUR sake.
Your judgment influences the way you feel and the way you behave
toward that person. Harsh judgment makes you feel critical and
holier-than-thou, and that doesn't feel nearly as good as compassion.
If you make an assumption that the person has circumstances that
would explain their behavior, you can feel compassion and that
will change the way you treat the person. This is a very important
way you can become more like the person you've always wanted
to be. Resist the urge to judge and give people the benefit of