Judgment and Compassion

July 16, 2018 | Filed Under Things I Think About | No Comments

Being judgmental runs deeply in my family line. It was my family’s favorite indoor sport, and every one of my relatives had a quick mind a sharp tongue to express their disapproval of the current trespass under discussion. The god-fearing church ladies loved their neighbors as they loved themselves, but that didn’t stop them from judging everyone’s actions (and often making up stories about the motivations for those actions out of whole cloth). Not by coincidence, they also tended to judge others on the matters which were their own issues—the one whose husband had a mistress judged others on the quality of their marriages; the gold digger, with five failed marriages, judged others for marrying for the wrong reasons; the beauty queen, who judged other women’s appearances and disapproved of their vanity.

I’m 55, and still struggling to get over this habit. It’s not healthy for me, and it doesn’t do any good for any of the people who I judge. I don’t want to be a gossip, and really, life is too short to waste words on things that are none of my business. If a friend confides that they are having relationship problems, I can listen and be supportive, but my judging them doesn’t help. If a friend confides that they are struggling with depression, I can listen and be supportive, but my judging them doesn’t help.

What does help is compassion. Our friends at Merriam-Webster define compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”. It’s impossible to be in a place of compassion and a place of judgment at the same time, so when I find myself judging, I try to replace the judgment with compassion. It’s a practice, and I’m far from perfect, but it’s important to me to be aware of it and keep practicing this.

When someone I care about is suffering, judgment is far away, and compassion moves me to try to help; that’s easy. If they’re ill, compassion spurs me make tea or soup, or take them to the doctor, or take other action to help them feel better. If they are in an emotional crisis, compassion spurs me to listen, to offer suggestions if asked, to provide tissues and a teddy bear when they cry. What I really want is a magic wand to wave and instantly fix everything, but as I am a mortal and not a wizard, tea and tissues must suffice.

When I’m dealing with strangers, however, it’s much more challenging. These are not people with whom I have a deep or historic connection, and judgment rears its ugly head far too easily.

When I’m in traffic, and someone cuts me off by changing lanes without signalling, I get annoyed. Judgment reacts and yells at them, “Hey, idiot, learn to drive!”, which is not helpful for either of us. Even though the other driver can’t hear my exclamation, I’ve directed that negative energy at them, and unless they do their own energy work, it’s going to stick to them. So, before judgment can say something stupid, compassion comes in and reminds me that I have no idea why they are driving so dangerously. Maybe they’re late for work because of traffic, and are afraid of losing their job. Maybe they are on the way to the hospital, where a loved one is in critical condition. Or maybe they are an idiot who should learn to drive. I don’t know, and it’s not my business to judge.

Instead of yelling at them from a place of judgment and adding negativity to their day (and mine), I can instead act from a place of compassion. I can send them on their way with a blessing that they travel safely and arrive where they need to be, when they are needed. Sending them on with a blessing takes no more energy than it does to yell at them. Giving a blessing is much better for my mental health (and energy and spiritual well-being), and it’s certainly far better for them.

Another place where I get a lot of practice with this is shopping. I really do not like shopping, and avoid it whenever possible. However, groceries must be obtained, and thus, I find myself at Trader Joe’s often enough to have this as a regular practice. There are too many people, and everyone is in a hurry and just wants everyone else to get out of their way so they can buy their cereal and cookies and go home. Then, when you get into the checkout line, the person in front has forgotten “just one thing” and dashes off to retrieve it, leaving the entire line thinking, “Use a list, idiot!” But, instead of reacting and railing at them for not using their list, responding from a place of compassion allows me to give them a blessing that they find what they need, that the food they are buying both nourishes and nurtures them and the people they are feeding, and that they enjoy the food and the companions with whom they will share it. Sometimes, judgment sneaks back in and suggests giving them a blessing to be more organized; I’m still working on that. If I can offer that blessing from a place of real compassion, I do so; if not, well, it’s practice for next time.

There are endless examples in everyday life where compassion can supplant judgment, and make the day better for everyone. I’m far from where I want to be, but I am also far from where I used to be, so I try to view myself with compassion for the efforts and successes, and suspend the judgment. As Jack Kornfeld wrote, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

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