Have you ever taken part in an auction? It can be quite exhilarating, especially if you really want the auction item. Imagine you are at an auction and have just have discovered the item up for grabs is a live sea turtle. Participants are bidding on the chance to destroy its beautiful, massive shell. Would you be excited to participate? I wasn’t.
It was our first night on Turtle Island – a beautiful island in the South Pacific. My husband and I had joined 11 other vacationing couples for dinner on the beach. Right before dinner, we were told some fishermen had captured a few hawksbill turtles that day, and the live turtles would be auctioned off after dinner. The highest bidders would each win a chance to engrave a message on a turtle’s shell.
As the others were laughing and planning what they would write on their shell if they won, I was thinking how terrible the whole thing was, and that I didn’t want any part of it.
Before the auction began, the owner of the island came over to talk with us. He explained that hawksbill turtles are an endangered species, yet poachers still catch and kill the turtles for their highly prized shells. In an attempt to save the turtles, the owner had started a turtle conservation program, whereby he buys the captured turtles from fishermen and releases them, after first engraving a few marks on their shells. The engraving doesn’t harm the turtles in any way but renders their shells worthless.
Because the turtles’ shells are no longer of any value, poachers don’t waste their time trying to catch them and the turtles are left in the sea to reproduce. The auction helps raise enough funds to continue the catch-and-release program. I had assumed the worst and I was wrong.
Why We Judge
Have you ever assumed the worst and passed judgment before you had all of the facts? It’s easy to do, but why do we do it? In part, I think we do it in an attempt to make us feel better about ourselves. That’s what I was doing at the turtle auction; I was trying to justify being on holiday without my two young daughters. My mind was fixed on our farewell at their grandparents’ house; the girls had been crying and begging me not to go. I was worried about how they felt and, I was feeling pretty lousy about my decision to leave them. Trying to ease my own conscience, I focused my critical radar on the other couples and thought, “I may have left my kids with their grandparents, but at least I’m not as bad as these turtle destroyers.”
The Problem with Judging Others
If you, like me, have ever critically judged another in an attempt to make yourself feel better, you may already have figured out that it doesn’t make you feel better at all. In fact, there are a number of reasons why it makes us feel worse.
First, when we critically judge others, we usually focus on flaws and weaknesses, rather than on strengths. Any time we dwell on negatives—like flaws and weaknesses—it erodes our peace of mind and contentment, building inner turmoil and resentment.
Secondly, what someone else has or hasn’t done does not undo what you have or haven’t done. For instance, even if those “turtle destroyers” had actually destroyed the turtles’ shells for no apparent reason, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that I left my kids to take my vacation. But, in addition to feeling upset about my own choices, I would have felt upset about others’ choices—a double whammy!
Thirdly, the more harshly you judge others, the more critical you’ll become of yourself. When you judge others, you’re really comparing them with you. You’re comparing their choices with your choices, their actions with your actions, their beliefs with your beliefs. Any time you compare yourself to others, you run the risk of being the one who comes up short. To top it off, we’re usually most critical of others in the areas where we ourselves are the weakest. So when you harshly judge others in an attempt to feel better about your own perceived shortcomings, you’re really shining a mental spotlight on the things you dislike most about yourself.
Choose to Be Curious Instead of Critical
The good news is that you have the power to turn it all around in an instant by choosing to be curious instead of critical. In other words, seek to understand rather than to condemn. That doesn’t mean you need to discard your opinions and beliefs. It means you choose to gather all the facts, as best you can, with an open mind. Seeking to understand by adopting an open-minded curiosity puts you in a better position to learn from life’s experiences, situations, and circumstances. As a result, you’ll enhance the peace of mind and contentment you experience on a regular basis.
There is another powerful benefit in releasing your judgments of others: the less you condemn others, the less you will condemn yourself. You’ll develop the habit of looking at every situation through a lens of curiosity—including your own situation. Consequently, when you feel you’ve fallen short, you won’t feel the need to beat yourself up over it. Instead, with greater self-love and self-acceptance, you’ll be able to make positive changes while maintaining your inner calm.
If you find yourself harshly judging another, regain your inner calm by shifting your thinking from critical to curious. Objectively gather all of the facts, seek to understand rather than to find fault, and remember the hawksbill turtle—particularly the one swimming somewhere in the Pacific Ocean with my name engraved on it!
P.S. This post was an excerpt from my book CALM: A Proven Four-Step Process Designed Specifically for Women Who Worry.
P.S.S. Take some time to “Make it Real”. Is there someone (or something) you’ve been judging harshly? With that person (or thing) in mind, reframe your thinking from critical to curious. Instead of focusing on perceived shortcomings, try this:
1. Practice Empathy
Ask yourself: Are there some missing facts that may help me to understand their point of view?
2. Practice Self-Compassion
Ask yourself: Am I judging their choices to make myself feel better about my own choices? If so, treat yourself with kindness and understanding, and forgive yourself.
3. Practice Acceptance
Declare: I can choose to be humble, gentle, and patient with others, making allowance for each other’s faults. (Note: I’m obviously not suggesting you overlook abusive behaviour. I’m suggesting it’s time to adopt a non-judgmental attitude when it comes to the personal choices of others so that together we can live and work with greater happiness and inner peace.)