I have judgmental thoughts all the time. I’m not saying that I’m a judgmental person, but I do get those thoughts. What matters is what we do with those thoughts once they come.

We are incredibly judgmental in America. We put everyone under a microscope – their hair, looks, makeup, style, actions, what they say, and even their character.

Most of this judgment is unjustified and comes from a place of insecurity or stress.

But why does it matter whether we judge others or not, and what do we do instead?:

  • Jesus didn’t actually say we shouldn’t judge
  • We usually judge off tiny amounts of information
  • We judge when we’re lazy
  • Judging blames others incorrectly
  • Judging is usually a sign of our own insecurities
  • We judge because we’re triggered or afraid of losing control

Jesus didn’t actually say we shouldn’t judge

If you really look at scripture, Jesus didn’t actually tell us not to judge others. I mean he did, but with a caveat…

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

How I interpret this is, “If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge others”. Or, “Don’t judge others if you’re not willing to be judged in return”.

The key point here is, make sure you judge yourself before you pass any kind of judgment onto others. And when we do, we must be gentle about it.

A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself.

A.W. Tozer

We are human. It’s ok to be hypocritical sometimes. We won’t always be perfectly aware of our faults before we help others with their faults. Recognize it, fix it, and move on.

It’s all a balance. I believe it’s ok to have high expectations of ourselves. I expect myself to put out good quality work, and be a blessing to others. So that’s ok. But we also must have grace on ourselves and not beat ourselves up.

Same with others. It’s ok to have expectations for others. But we have to recognize when those expectations aren’t reasonable sometimes. And if they are reasonable, we have to confront people in love. I haven’t always been the greatest at this, but I’ve gotten a lot better.

Judging is usually done based on tiny amounts of information

Credit: Michael Simmons

There are two reasons that what we perceive about others is prone to error:

  • People don’t communicate everything they know about their situation (because communication itself is imperfect)
  • We often don’t see everything that happened in a situation
  • We have inherent biases that cloud our perception of the world around us

Whenever we do things that resulted in a mistake or failure, we might try to explain ourselves. Problem is, we usually don’t get a chance to tell our story. Or if we do, we don’t have much time to tell the full story. And even if we do have that time, we probably don’t have the communication skills to perfectly explain ourselves.

Or we do something and people only see a fragment of the whole situation. It’s like those videos on social media where something intense happens, but we don’t see what happened before things escalate.

So we get judged. And that’s also what happens when we judge others. We only know a fraction of their story, for one reason or another, so we’re judging them on very small amounts of information.

We also have biases that cloud our perception of the world around us. There are biases like confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, social proof, and the Dunning-Kruger effect, to name a few.

Each of these biases make us see the world, and others, through a very small lens. Then when we try to judge others based on our biases, we’re judging people incorrectly.

We usually judge because we’re too lazy to think

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”

Carl Jung

In the 21st century, we are usually in a hurry. We’re stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, and that has an impact on how we judge others.

Combine this with the basic fact that thinking takes a lot of energy, we usually judge people and situations in a hurry. We jump to conclusions, assuming the worst in people.

Empathy, on the other hand, is the antidote to misjudging others. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we’ll probably be a little bit more patient, kind, and loving towards people in hard situations.

But empathy also takes brainpower. A lot of it, actually. In fact, people in power tend to lose their empathy even more.

So there is no easy fix to misjudging others – We must be willing to think more deeply and empathize with others.

Attribution error

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”

Stephen Covey

I mentioned earlier how biases, hypocrisy, and lack of empathy cause us to misjudge others – Fundamental attribution error is a combination of all three.

This common bias makes us judge others because we don’t see how we might have done the same thing in their shoes. Many times, if we were to experience the exact same events and situations as others, we might do or say the same things that they did. But from the outside looking in, we tend to “attribute” their error to their character, not their situation.

But if the roles were reversed and we made the mistake, we would cite our good intentions and how the situation influenced us. We would say we meant well.

The fact is we all make mistakes in non-ideal situations, and most of us have good intentions. Most of us don’t intend to hurt others. Brené Brown would say “We’re all just doing the best we can”.

When we truly believe that, we will misjudge less and have more compassion. Because in the end, we’re all capable of making the same mistakes.

Carol S. Dweck Quote: “Don't judge. Teach. It's a learning process.”

Judging is usually a sign of our own insecurities

I have found that I am more likely to judge my wife or be frustrated with her, when I’m already dealing with my own insecurities and stress. Or I’m just plain tired and hungry.

Many times our own internal state affects the lens with which we look at others. If we’re frustrated with our own situation or with ourselves, we’re more likely to be frustrated with others. If we’re insecure, we might project those insecurities onto others. If we’re stressed, we’re more likely to make snap judgments of others that are usually incorrect. Or if we’re insecure, we might judge others to make us feel better about ourselves.

Insecure, unhealed people get in loops and fixate on people’s shortcomings. They become toxic, getting offended and constantly criticizing the character of those around them. Those insecurities are a problem we have to fix in ourselves, not someone else’s responsibility.

“An unhealed person can find offense in pretty much anything someone does.”


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