Why do we judge (and continue being judged)?

“You know me, not my story. So don’t judge me!”

“Before you judge me, why not take a good look at yourself?”

“Never judge someone. They’re fighting their own battles.”

These are some common statements we see and hear most of the times. As educated and rational beings, we know that we should not be judging others. But why do we still continue to judge people? We do not like being judged, yet we continue to judge people. Worse, we judge people for judging us. Oh, the irony!

Why should we not judge?

Yes, it is true that we should not judge others. That is true, because we do not know the entire story behind whatever is happening, and judgement of the object or a person would cloud our perception. Forming a narrative based on only half of the story does not really help in fostering and nurturing the relationships that are essential and close to us.

On contrary, judgement – most of the times – are the ones that creates a half-image of the whole, and prevent us from looking at the bigger picture. This myopic sight would trouble our interpersonal relationships – be it personal or professional.

There are a lot of arguments for why we should not judge anyone, or anything, because we probably have only seen it from our lens, and formed our own narratives based on our worldview. This is not necessarily right or wrong, but the bottom line is that it does not show the whole bigger macro-perspective.

But why do we judge?

We will at least in our lifetime remain judgmental of others because that is how our brains have evolved from the past.

Since the times when humans lived in caves, there was always a constant fear of wild animals, a conflicting tribe comprising of physically strong counterparts, natural disasters, and even unknown diseases. Therefore, this judgement of the unknown was an essential skill required not just for surviving, but for thriving too. The initial judgement of “friend or foe” kicked in to understand whether the “unknown” was a potential threat and danger to us or not. And if it indeed was a threat, our ancestors trained their brains to trigger the “fight or flight” response as a way of our survival mechanism.

This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety.
– Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School

This “fight or flight” mechanism was a medium for humans to evolve into social groups. As social beings, this practice of judgement was vital for cavemen to establish functioning tribes. Without judgement, the tribe would cease to exist.

Learn how the “fight or flight” mechanism works here.

The best we can do is understand how these judgements are formed and what the judgmental thoughts tell about us.

The way you measure yourself is how you measure others, and how you assume others measure you.

Mark Manson, author, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

As Mark says, “the yardstick we use for ourselves is the yardstick we use for the world.” This is why we judge others. Suppose we judge someone for being late, this probably means that we value punctuality. When we judge someone for their appearance, it tells us that we emphasize on the physical outlook. When we judge someone for being disrespectful, it tells us that our principle operates by being respectful towards others. When we judge someone based on their riches, it is just that we value those riches. Simple.

Judgement of others tells us more about ourselves than about them. If we only start noticing by what parameters we judge others, we can understand that those parameters are of importance to us. We can’t stop judging people, but we can surely know more about ourselves with this process. Thus, being mindful and thinking about your own judgements will open doors to understand your own self. This will, however, require a lot of patience as well as practice.

Coming back to the question – will we ever stop judging? Short answer – NO. This judgement is something that is developed with our brain during our evolution, so it is next to impossible for humans to stop judging. However, we can become mindful of our judgements, reflect back on those judgements, and use it as a key to self-awareness in understanding our own priorities, parameters, and principles.

So judge all you want, but be mindful about the narratives being formed, and what those narratives tell you about yourself.

Recipe for Content Life: Awareness and Courage

I first saw the combination of awareness and courage in Tim Urban’s tweet. Tim called it the ingredients for the recipe of “good future for humanity”. I wouldn’t be far-fetched to call it a good future for “humanity”, but let’s just focus on us “humans”.

Upon reflecting on this tweet for nearly about a year, I have had epiphanies of this piece of insight being more and more relatable. I have come to realize that when people’s lives are in trouble, it has to do with these two factors – they are either unaware of their own selves, or lack courage to take the step that they deep down want to take, or lack both.

Take a moment to think about the troubles you currently have in your life and try reflecting where your efforts have been lacking – it boils down to lack of either one of awareness or courage, or both of them. Let’s look at following examples:

In a financial crisis (either from loss of job or multiple debts) – You now probably need to be more consciously aware to save, invest, or sell some of your dearest possession(s), or need to be courageous enough to be vulnerable in front of your friends and seek for help.

In a health crisis – You weren’t aware of your eating habits, or weren’t courageous enough to maintain discipline for your routine exercise. Of course health problems could be genetic and you could consider yourself helpless, but in order to resolve it you will once again need to be aware of what you can/can’t do or eat, and courage to follow the task religiously.

In a relationship crisis – You’ll again need to be aware of where the problems are arising from and be courageous enough to take actions. You, yourself, could be the root of the problem – and if you don’t see it, you aren’t being aware. Even if you are aware and you see the problem is within you, you will need to draw courage to change yourself so that the relationship thrives.

There could be a lot of crisis, troubles, and problems that could be well beyond your span of control. What about that? Again, be aware of what could be within your boundaries, and have the courage to act.

Awareness and Courage - Recipe for Content Life

For leading a content life, we will need to have BOTH awareness and courage. Being aware, but not having enough courage to act would make us feeble and helpless. We’ll need to depend on other people to take us out from our distress. Being courageous, but lacking awareness will eventually lead to a disaster because our over-confidence skyrockets. We will be doing things bravely, but without knowing and understanding why are we doing so, and what consequences are we facing as a byproduct of our choices. And finally, having neither awareness nor courage is completely useless.

So, awareness and courage – that’s it?

No. That’s still not it.

Awareness and courage are interlinked – you will need courage to be more aware, and you will need to be aware to be more courageous. It’s a loop. But where do you start? You start with a simple word called – PRACTICE.

But practice what?

Practice asking questions to yourself. Especially those difficult questions that you have been trying to run away from. Questions like these:

  • Who am I, really?
  • If I were to introduce myself without the use of any other person or institution I’m associated with, how would I introduce myself?
  • What worries me most about future?
  • What matters the most in my life?
  • Why do I matter?
  • What are the words I’d like to live by?
  • What is my idea of fun?

You can find more self-introspection and reflection questions here.

And how do you find courage? Turns out, more you become aware, more you will find courage to take any action.

Also read: Don’t be yourself; consider adaptive authenticity

To live a happy and content life, you will need to discard a lot of things that goes against your personal values and your comfort zones. If you need to look for growth in your professional life, you probably need to quit hanging out with friends who would drag you down and focus on self-improvement. Cutting those ties would require a huge deal of courage.

The same goes with cutting toxic ties with family, relatives, friends, colleagues, or even institutions. All of these require huge courage, but prior to that, you will need to be aware of what is going on with you, your surroundings, the consequences of your actions, and so on. To begin the process of awareness, you will again need the courage to question yourself. The damned loop.

You think you fear giving presentations? Being aware of your content will help you reducing your fear. You need courage to say ‘no’ to your boss? Being aware of your personal values might help. You need courage to stand up for injustice? Being aware of our actions and consequences could help. Need to embrace your fear? Start with being aware of your fears first!

Taking small steps and celebrating the small wins could help in overcoming your fears. But do remember, everything starts with PRACTICE, a small first step.

Then after, it’s the duo – Awareness and Courage into the play.

Towards Equanimity

Disclaimer: I am – by no means – an expert in equanimity, and this article only represents the tips I have been practicing on my own.

calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.

Our life is full of problems, conflicts, and crises – be it at work, home, or in relationship. From forgetting an anniversary to homelocked in quarantine during a global pandemic, stress has surrounded our lives. In times like these, most of us – we panic. And we stress even more.

However, we see some people find it easy to navigate around stress. Some people deal with conflicts with some impressive calmness. We don’t even see a slight flinch in their responses. How do people gain such composure even in adversity? This question hit me hard. I decided to explore. I vowed to become one of such people. I’ll tell you what I’m doing so far, but let’s first understand the concept of equanimity.

What actually is Equanimity?

Equanimity – by its definition – might sound like mindfulness. But it’s not. It’s moving beyond mindfulness. This article from Mindfulness journal speaks more about what equanimity is, and has addressed it as follows:

In the Buddhist tradition, the term “equanimity” (upeksha in Sanskrit, upekkha in Pali) is a complex construct that has been given multiple definitions along the development of Buddhist thought. At its heart is the word for ‘eye’ and ‘see’, with a prefix suggesting ‘gazing upon’ or observing without interference. It is “a state of mind that cannot be swayed by biases and preferences”, an “even-mindedness in the face of every sort of experience, regardless of whether pleasure [or] pain are present or not”. This state of equanimity manifests as “a balanced reaction to joy and misery, which protects one from emotional agitation”.

Equanimity is the capacity to remain neutral, to observe from a distance and be at peace without getting caught up in what we observe. It’s the capacity to see the big picture with understanding. In essence, it is about taking nothing personally, refusing to get caught up in the drama – either our own or others’.

Equanimity is the foundation for wisdom and freedom and for compassion and love. It is not, as some have mistaken, a “dryness,” coolness, indifference or aloofness. It is not the suppression of feelings, apathy or inexpressiveness. Equanimity is not indifference.

Equanimity also involves a level of impartiality (i.e, being not partial or biased), such that one can experience unpleasant thoughts or emotions without repressing, denying, judging, or having aversion for them. Similarly, in a state of equanimity one can have pleasant or rewarding experiences without becoming over-excited (e.g., to the point of mania or hypomania), or trying to prolong these experiences, or becoming addicted to them.

Practicing Equanimity

To begin understanding about practicing equanimity, let us understand this verse from the Bhagavad Gita first:

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ||

yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṁ yoga uchyate

Translation: Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog.

Equanimity Step 1: Our feelings aren’t us.

Practicing equanimity requires us to remain equipoised in the face of joy or sorrow, and such balanced reaction will protect us from emotional agitation. As Harvard Medical School’s psychologist Susan David, PhD says, “When we identify with an emotion too closely, we often describe it as if it defines us.” A space between us and our emotions is required for clarity. Dr. David further recommends us not to say “I am sad”, or “I am anxious”. Instead, we should try to notice the feeling for what it is – “I am feeling sad”, or “I am noticing that I’m feeling worried”.

Understanding this becomes crucial to avoid reacting emotionally. To get better at this, my good friends Sagar, AJ & team of My Emotions Matter (MEM) recommends separating facts from feelings. Here are some examples from team MEM on separating facts and feelings:

Feeling: You ignored me.
Fact: You haven’t replied to my message for 10 days.

Feeling: I’m worthless.
Fact: I didn’t pass my exam.

Separating facts and feelings allows us to refrain from labeling, judging, or diagnosing any person, object, or event. This allows us to objectively view the incident without falling prey to any cognitive biases. The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti accurately remarked, “The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating.

Equanimity Step 2: We need to manage our response to our feelings.

Meditator, writer, and speaker Yung Pueblo mentions, “It is not about managing your emotions, it is about managing your reaction to your emotions.”

“Reactions give us the clearest view of what our mind experienced in the past, they are the dense patterns that rise from the deep subconscious as a way to protect us. This form of defense is not based on wisdom, but on survival, when we start expanding our self-awareness, especially during moments of turbulence, we start to see that we have more effective options than just repeating blind behaviors, which produce limited results that generally wipe away our clarity and inner peace in the process.”
– Yung Pueblo

We manage our reactions not by controlling them but by bringing awareness into the process — it is hard to change if you cannot see yourself.

Equanimity Step 3: Developing stoic resiliency.

It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.

— Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

Equanimity is the central concept in Stoic ethics and psychology. The Greek stoics used the word “Apatheia” (from a- “without” and pathos “suffering” or “passion”), which referred to a state of mind in which one is not disturbed by the passions. Equanimity is closely related to multiple religions – in Hinduism as Samatvam, in Buddhism and Yoga as Upeksha, in Judaism as Menuhat ha-Nefesh or Yishuv ha-Da’at, in Islam as Aslama; and has been used as a core principle in multiple philosophies – in Pyrrhonism (as ataraxia), Taoism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus mentioned that the chief task in life is simply to identify and separate matters so that one can clearly segregate which are externals not under their control, and which have to do with the choices one can actually control. Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius also mentioned, “You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength“.

Holocaust survivor and prominent Viennese psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl’s most enduring insight has been derived from this philosophy of stoicism – “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you”. Forces beyond our control can take away everything we possess except one thing, our freedom to choose how we will respond to the situation.

The ability to reason, take a perspective from outside of the situation, and hold ourselves accountable are ways that the Stoics would have laid the foundation on building resiliency in one’s’ life.

No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.

— Seneca

To sum up the resiliency from the Stoics, focus on two principles – i) Events are neither good nor bad, but it’s our own interpretation of them that is good or bad, and ii) what lies within our sphere of control and what lies beyond it. The trifecta for change suggests being aware of these two principles as a foundation for building resilience, and practicing equanimity. The second stage is to accept that whatever we are doing, we take the full responsibility. No one else is responsible for what we think, feel, or act except us ourselves. And finally, the third stage is to act. During the act, it is essential we ask ourselves – “Is what I am doing helping or harming me?”

Again, let us be reminded that our actions are within our control, but the results are not. As organizational psychologist, Adam Grant once mentioned, “Satisfying work is about enjoying the process, not the product. Pride in the result is not a substitute for joy in creating it.”

This brings us back to the Bhagavad Gita verse mentioned above. When we can perform any act to the best of our ability, abandoning worries and attachment to results, and remain equipoised, then we can say we are in the path towards equanimity.

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