"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." ~ Henry David Thoreau
A friend of mine likes to joke that dying will be a relief because it will put an end to the "heavy burden of judging" as she calls it. She envisions herself lying in a hospital bed and, moments before death, noticing the ceiling and thinking, "What a hideous green."
Here's a modest proposal: Vow that for the rest of the day, you won't judge your friends or colleagues and you won't judge any strangers you happen to see. This would include a friend who's a non-stop talker; it would include a friend who's always complaining about his life. It would include the strangers you pass on the street or see in a waiting room.
I call it a modest proposal because I'm not even addressing the issue of self-judgement, let alone BP or Gaddafi. No. I'm just asking you not to judge friends, colleagues or strangers.
It's entirely possible you won't make it past a few minutes without judging someone!
So, why not just 'judge away?'
To answer that, let me start by drawing a distinction between judgement and discernment. Discernment means perceiving the way things are, period.
Judgement is what we add when we make a comparison between how things or people are and how we think they ought to be. So, in judgement, there's perhaps an element of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire to have things be the way we want them.
Take that talkative colleague. To think or speak in a neutral, purely descriptive tone, "She can talk non-stop for 15 minutes,” is an example of the above — assuming the assessment is accurate, we're just describing the way things are.
On the other hand, to think or speak in a negative tone, "She can talk non-stop for 15 minutes," is an example of judgement because that negative tone reveals our dissatisfaction with how she is and our desire for her to be different.
The same analysis applies to the complaining colleague at work. If we say, "He complained about his life the entire day," depending on our tone, it could be a neutral observation (discernment) or it could reflect our dissatisfaction with him and our desire for him to be different (a judgement).
Now think about strangers. If you're like me, there's almost always a subtle judgement waiting in the wings: "She could do with losing some weight." "Doesn't he know how to pick a tie that goes with a shirt?"
So, again, why not just 'judge away'? Recall that in judgement, there's an element of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire to have things (in my examples: people) be the way we want them to be.
In light of this, judgement is just a recipe for suffering: start with our dissatisfaction over how a person happens to be and mix in our desire for them to be otherwise.
It doesn't mean we have to hang out with someone who talks more than we'd like or who does nothing but complains about his life. But we can make the choice about whether to be with them without judging them. When we do, it feels good; it has that peaceful quality of letting go of clinging to the way we want people to be.
As for those strangers, maybe the woman I saw has a medical condition that results in weight gain, or maybe she eats to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Perhaps the man was wearing the only tie he owns. Judging them did nothing to ease their suffering, and it certainly didn't ease mine.
Now try this experiment. Think about a couple of friends who annoy you in some way. Can you open your heart to her talkativeness or to his constant complaining?
Walt Whitman said, "I contain multitudes." I like to think of the world as containing multitudes. I do this by consciously thinking: "This world is big enough for both the talkative and the untalkative; for both the complainers and the non-complainers."
Judging is such a well-ingrained response that I hardly notice when I'm doing it, (yes I can be as guilty as the next person) so I know I have a lifetime of conditioning to overcome. But it's worth it because when I don't judge, I feel the benefits in both my mind and my work: applying this to recruitment, making snap judgements about candidates will only hinder the entire process, it's imperative that we understand the candidate, their personality and their skills without making judgements until we have the facts.
I truly hope I can shed that heavy burden of judging before that moment in the hospital bed when I'm staring at the green ceiling!