I was out for lunch with a friend recently and he told me something that surprised me. He said that he really enjoyed hanging out with me because, unlike most people in this world, I don't judge.
All I could think was, "well, you obviously haven't been inside my head!" The truth is that I'm sure I judge just as much as anyone else out there; in fact, I'm judging all of the time. I judge friends, strangers, celebrities, even characters on TV. Humans are judging machines. We have to be! That's how we learn and make sense of the world.
We hear, see, feel, smell, taste and otherwise sense things; we take that info in, and then we have to make sense of it somehow. We organize it and prioritize it, and we sometimes recall similar experiences from the past which help us to organize these data in a way we can understand.
And because we're smart human beings, we learn from what has happened in the past. We remember previous outcomes or we bring to mind and apply our own outcomes (what we would do or think given a similar situation) and we assume to know someone without asking. We judge.
But sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes someone acts in a way that looks like a behaviour we've seen before, but it isn't. That's what I've realized. Yes it's true that a lot of human behaviour is predictable and that we are all driven by similar needs and desires. We want to belong, and to feel important. We want to be loved and respected.
But we all have a different story. It's made up of different experiences and lessons. It also involves our desires; we all have different dreams and no one knows the true desires of our heart nor how much or how little we are willing to overcome in order to pursue those desires. This passion for our desires changes over time as well. Sometimes we're more driven to conquer our past and our limitations and other times, we're just happy to enjoy the comforts that have been afforded us.
It was this internal struggle that first helped me realize that people were judging me… wrongly judging me. They assumed to know, based on my past behaviour, what I would surely do next. They judged me as bossy, and so I became the opposite. They judged me as needy, and so I became strong and independent. Whenever someone judged me as something, I was just so determined not to be told what to do or how to behave that I just turned them right around, and did the opposite.
I also learned about other people when I assisted in a personal development class, the Pursuit of Excellence. This class encouraged people to share of themselves and I started to understand that people aren't predictable. People have a lot of complexity to them.
I found this complexity truly curious. Just when I thought I was beginning to understand someone, they would inevitably reveal something I hadn't anticipated. Eventually, I just stopped trying to anticipate. I stopped judging. Instead, I approached people with curiosity. I believe that even the most repulsive behaviour can be understood. And please don't misunderstand; I've said it can be understood, not excused.
The problem is that few people want to understand. We'd rather judge. It's easier? It's safer? It's just human nature? Whatever the reason, I know one thing: being judged doesn't feel very good. Being understood (through someone being curious about you) generally feels a lot better. When I learned about the feeling each approach imparts, I realized the impact I was having.
I heard this quote recently: “I am thankful for the difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I don’t want to be.” It's a quote that can be taken two ways. I think a lot of people think it translates as "I'm glad I'm not a difficult person."
But when I read the quote, my first thought was that when I label people as being difficult, I am being the ugly, judgemental one. And this revelation helps me to realize that I can be so much better, that I'm not being the person I want to be. This is "exactly who I don't want to be."
That's why having different people in my life has been so important. I've learned a lot from them and their 'difficult' ways, like how relatable and understandable people really are.
On a related note, I want to say 'Hi' to my old roommate Kiki who has returned to China, and to her students who, I'm told, practice their English reading my column online every week. Hello to you all!
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