When We Don’t Understand, We Judge (People. Matter. 01.27.17)
We’re all guilty of passing judgment on someone else at one point or another. There are many reasons we judge people. Some of us judge because we don’t like other people. Some of us judge because we’re insecure or feel inadequate. Others of us judge because we are conscious of our differences or perceived differences. Others of us judge because we are envious and try to find something wrong with the other person. We use judging as a way to be in control, to feel like we’re superior, and to defend ourselves.
However, these aren’t the main reasons we judge people. The very basic reason we judge people is because we do not understand them. And when we don’t understand someone, we are quick to judge, call them names, discriminate against them, and jump to conclusions about where they come from, who they are, and why they do what they do.
Think about the subject you hated the most in school. For me, it was math. Math was tough for me and I can remember saying to some of my friends “I hate math.” It wasn’t really that I hated math; rather, it was that I didn’t understand some math concepts. And because I didn’t understand the subject, I was quick to label it as something I hated.
Unfortunately, we do the same thing to people. If a person is acting in a manner that we perceive to be strange, we call him or her “weird” or “stupid”. If a person is acting in a hateful manner, we call him or her “evil” or “cold”. However, no one person is entirely good or entirely evil. Actions do speak louder than words but they never speak as loud as being in someone’s shoes.
When I started grad school, one of my professors who teaches counseling told the class that we should always seek to “hear and understand” our clients. That principle doesn’t only apply to counseling; it applies to every social aspect of our lives. When we encounter people throughout our daily existence, we should aim to hear and understand them instead of jumping to conclusions and judging them. A grocery store clerk may not be short with you because she’s mean. Maybe it’s because she’s had a long day, or her baby is sick, or her mother just died, or she’s going through a divorce. And if you only knew what she is going through, you might not treat her so harshly, or snap back because you perceive her to be mean, or gossip about the “rude cashier” to your friends.
When we judge people, we build a wall instead of building a bridge. That wall between us and them hinders the relational process. We don’t get to know people for who they are this way. Many times, a person who is unkind and hateful is usually nothing but a person who has had a rough life. A person who is physically and verbally aggressive, in reality, may be nothing but a person who has had a traumatic experience. While such behavior is not condoned, it can be understood.
By seeking to hear and understand, we put ourselves in the best position to help others, share our experiences, and meet their needs. Dropping our assumptions, preconceived ideas, and perceived notions about who people are or who they’re supposed to be, we open ourselves up to give, serve, and love. Ultimately, that is what our lives should be about. Leadership expert, Lolly Daskal said, “When we listen, we hear, when we hear we understand.”
By putting yourself in the shoes of someone else and understanding their background and conditions, you’ll start to develop a non-judgmental attitude. Understanding people diminishes the threat of judgment and opens the door to learn and love in brilliant ways. You open yourself up to become a better person because when you understand other people, you will learn more about them. And when you learn more about them, your fears and prejudices decrease and you see them for who they are — as human beings — just like you.