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Judging Other People

I used to judge people. All the time.

“They must be a bad parents.” “He might not be good at his job.” “What a terrible driver.” “That person is definitely a mean spirited asshole.”

At some point, I realized this was not a good thing to be doing. People and their circumstances are complicated and the amount of missing information I have is huge. So I started to play a game.

What situation or context could I invent that would excuse or explain a person’s attitude or behavior?

This helped quite a bit. Instead of seeing someone take an elevator and thinking they are lazy, I would think instead: “They may be recovering from a foot or ankle injury.”

If I see someone who looks healthy parking in a handicap spot, it’s not they borrowed the tag from their grandma, rather it becomes “that person must be working hard on their rehab.”

Instead of lazy dads I started to see a single parent dealing with family health emergencies. Instead of road rage, it became someone distracted and stressed due to a divorce or death in the family.

Not every explanation had to be so dramatic. Sometimes little things, that person spilled something on their favorite pants and is late for an important meeting. Or that person’s favorite team lost an important match and of course they are a bit grumpy.

The most powerful was imaging myself in their shoes. When have I acted in a imperfect manner, what was my reasoning?

After a while, it occurred to me that not judging is a powerful form of empathy. And this kind of empathy, repeated over an over is a powerful tool in helping control my own mind. In particular it helps keep my brain from slipping into fight or flight mode. This is useful in a professional context and especially as a parent.

Rather than judge people, imaging what situations or context would make you behave in a similar way. You won’t always be right. In fact the majority of your rationalizations will probably be wrong. But at the same time, your initial negative judgements are almost always lacking enough context to me 100% correct as well.

Again, I used to judge people all the time. I do it a quite a bit less these days.

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