Virtually every spiritual tradition, in one-way or another teaches, “Judge not”. Why not?, one may ask. Do we not need to evaluate our thoughts, or consequences of our actions in order to see right from wrong? Yes, absolutely. Observe and evaluate- yes. Judge-no. Let’s look at both.
First-observation and evaluation. As we observe a thought, an event, or an action we can become aware of the consequences of that thought, that event, or that action. We may evaluate these consequences as satisfying. Or, if they are not, we may decide to look for alternative ways of thinking or acting in order to bring about different, more desirable consequences.
Let’s take a simple example: Suppose you run a red light. As a result, you almost cause an accident. You did not intend to drive through a red light, it just happened. You made an error. You slow down, or maybe you even stop your car. Your heart is beating fast, your palms are sweaty. You calm down. You begin to think about what could have happened. You ask yourself, if this is a typical pattern in your driving. You make a conscious, serious decision to drive differently, perhaps to become more attentive, not to talk on the cell phone, while driving, or some other resolution. As a result of this experience, you learn from the consequences and move on.
Now, let’s look at what happens, when Judgment enters the picture.
So, here you are, you have just run a red light. Your first thought is: Look what I’ve done, I could have killed this poor person and myself.! How could I be so reckless? Where was my head?! They should lock me up and throw away the key.
Believe me, this avalanche of self-criticism, does not make you a better driver. Chances are, because in your mind you are still back there, at the fateful intersection, you stop paying attention to the here and now. And, this may cause you to make yet another mistake while driving. If this happens, your self-criticism will be reinforced even more, but your driving will probably not improve..
Take another example. You witness some injustice. Perhaps, it’s injustice of global nature, or it is something local, happening right in front of you. You think: How can this be! Why is it happening? This is terrible, horrible, ugly. You go on and on, getting more upset, and more tense. You feel that your outrage is justifiable. Your fists are clenched. Your mind is racing. Your body is aching.
Think about the effects of your anger. Your mental, emotional and physical state is weakened. You have less ability to constructively address the situation.
Now, I would like you to consider an alternative way of responding.
You can remind yourself that Life IS, and People ARE. Life is and people are, not the way you wish them to be, but the way they ARE. Why, for example, shouldn’t people act in the way, that seems to you appalling or nonsensical? Perhaps they grew up in a different environment, maybe with a different value system, different teachers, parents. Perhaps, if you were like them, and had all their experiences, you would act or think in the same way.
You may want these people to be different, you may think about what you can do to help them understand your viewpoint. And finally, you may decide to take steps to initiate change, or to resolve a problem. But by judging, you run the risk of imprisoning yourself in a continuous cycle of anger, frustration, and apathy, all elements of stress, all of which can lead to physical illness.
Judgment impacts more than just your emotions. Recent studies in the field of neuro-physiology demonstrate, that when we are stressed (which happens when we judge) a hormone called nor-epinephrine is released, that shuts down locus cerelus, the part of the brain responsible for creativity. When this happens, we lose our ability to constructively resolve stressful challenges. We fall back upon well-established habitual reactions of the past. How many times, have you promised yourself, you would not reach for that cookie, or light up that cigarette, or raise your voice with your spouse or children- and yet, you find yourself doing so, time and time again.
Judgment paralyzes our creativity and inhibits our ability to act in more positive ways. Judgment breeds such negative emotions as anger, fear, guilt, or remorse. Ultimately, judgment jeopardizes our well-being.
All right. Now that we have considering the effects of judging, why don’t we simply stop being judgmental?
Just because we understand a concept, long-term behavior does not automatically disappear. In order to disown anything, we first must fully own it. That is, we must become aware of ourselves judging, acknowledge and accept the tendency, without judging ourselves for having it.
So, here is your assignment: For the following week, become a witness, an observer of your emotional responses. Any time you pass judgment upon yourself or someone else, say to yourself “Here goes, say your name, Judging. In my case, I would say, “Here goes, Peter, judging. “That’s all. Not “Here I go again”, or “Stop judging”, no, just “Here goes X. Judging.” It is important that you do not try to stop yourself from judging, but that you only notice. Acknowledge. And move on.