We all judge people. We can’t help it. Our brains are wired to observe, reason, and conclude. However, we do a very poor job of judging people accurately; and so I propose a new, scientific approach that will help us see people as they actually are and less as we mistakenly presume.
Judging people inaccurately limits our thinking and creates barriers in relationships. We hinder our progress through life when we pass false judgments. Thus, it is important to evaluate how and why we judge people in order to get a clearer understanding of our thought process and create a better life for ourselves and those around us.
Our discussion is a three-part series. In this article, we examine our current method for judging people and reflect on the repercussions of this method. The subsequent articles uncover the fundamental flaw in our current method and propose a new approach. A link to Part 2 is provided at the end of this article.
Our Stupid Way of Judging People
Judgment happens so quickly in our minds that it seems like an automatic response. It seems more like a reflex than something we can control or choose to do.
However, judgment is not simply an innate reflex when it comes to daily social interactions; rather, it is a learned pattern of thinking that we can access in our minds and alter.
It’s easy to say, “Oh, this is just how things are. Everybody judges everybody. It’s how it’s always been.” Perhaps judgment is a skill that humans learned in order to adapt and survive when competing with other species. It is obvious, though, that the consequences of inaccurate judgement can easily divide people and turn survival into a competition among fellow humans. Competition is not inherently bad, but the purpose for which we compare other people to ourselves creates unnecessary stress and anxiety in our lives.
In today’s society, we pass judgment as a mechanism for emotional survival. We tend to seek approval from other people in order to develop self-confidence instead of deriving confidence from valuing ourselves. We also tend to categorize people and compare people to ourselves in order to validate our self-worth.
Each one of us has a narcissistic bully leashed-up inside that wants us to judge other people in order to make us feel better about ourselves. That pesky bugger is difficult to contain sometimes. Judging people is so deliciously tempting because it is easy to do and seems harmless.
If we pass a judgment in our minds, who is to know? If we do not speak about this judgment, it can cause no harm to anyone, right?
Big, fat wrong.
Judging people is not inherently evil, but neglecting to manage the extent to which we judge others is self-destructive. Our method for judging people affects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships (even if other people do not know that we are judging them). It behooves us to monitor our thinking so that we can create and maintain better relationships with other people.
Although our judgments arise so quickly, we can break down our system of thought into a sequence so that we can clearly see what we need to improve. Our current system of thought goes something like this:
Below is an overview of what happens in our minds during each step of the sequence. Note that this sequence is not necessarily linear. It actually seems like each step happens at the same time or that our minds go back and forth between steps until a final decision is made. However, the purpose of establishing a sequence and listing it in a particular order is simply to obtain better understanding of how judgment occurs.
We begin our discussion with the origin of our judgments – observation.
Judgments arise when we observe something. We notice someone’s hair color, clothing, or smell. We notice the way a person walks, the pitch of their voice, or their energy. We hear a person speak, see a person’s body language, or notice how a person handles a frustrating situation.
When we observe another human being, our brains almost automatically have something to say about the observation. We make an instant conclusion about who that person is, what is right and wrong about the person, and how valuable the person is. We also almost automatically compare ourselves to that person based on the observation.
Once we make an observation, we interpret that observation relative to how we feel about ourselves.
Our reactions to our observations vary. We may feel appreciative, jealous, resentful, insecure, happy, or motivated. We may feel hatred if we do not have what that person has, or we may feel inspired to attain what that person has attained.
When we observe, we use ourselves as a basis for comparison to interpret our observation. We try to classify the observation as good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, normal or weird, and so on. We also simultaneously reclassify ourselves relative to what we observe. Essentially, we tend to classify people based on how we feel about ourselves.
For example, if we believe ourselves to be highly intelligent and informed, and we notice that the person we observe is also highly intelligent and informed, we may interpret the person to be acceptable (on our level) or unacceptable (a threat to our ego).
Likewise, if we feel we are unattractive according to mainstream media, and we notice that the person we observe is also unattractive, we may feel happy that we are not alone in this world (the person is acceptable) or we may feel superior by comparison (the person is unacceptable).
However we choose to interpret what we observe, we very quickly form a conclusion about the person.
Based on our initial observations and interpretations, we make definitive statements about a person. We might conclude that a person is acceptable, or we might conclude that a person is sub-par.
Either way, we make a final conclusion about the person we observe, and we etch that conclusion in stone. The conclusion is now fact. The conclusion is irrefutable Truth.
We then categorize the person we observe, and we use our new Truth to form generalizations about other people who fall in the same category. Essentially, our self-discovered Truth becomes part of who we are and how we view the world.
Once we have uncovered the Truth about someone we observe, we now have a mechanism to quickly and easily judge all those who fall into the same category. This allows us to bypass the interpretation stage in the future and get straight to the conclusion part. We no longer have to ponder whether someone acceptable or not – we have already done all that grunt work.
Now when we observe someone, we can simply identify the category that person belongs to and identify the associated Truth. It’s like a matching game.
This applies to people we already know and people we do not know. We create generalizations about our friends and passersby alike; and these generalizations are what we use to make decisions in our lives.
Do you see any flaws in this method? Are there any conditions that might prove this method ineffective? Think about how you judge people personally. You might not even realize that you do.
The next time you are out and about in the world, pay attention to your thoughts. When you see someone attractive, observe the initial thoughts that you have about the person. Same goes for when you see someone who is obese, in a wheelchair, talking to themselves, screaming into a cell phone, arguing with a grocery store clerk, helping an old lady across the street, picking up a piece of trash, picking a wedgie, making out with someone, and so on.
Observe your thoughts when you see a well-manicured man wearing a bright pink blazer over an orange polka-dotted button-down. Observe your thoughts when you see an aged woman with saggy knees wearing a mini-skirt and 4-inch red pumps. Observe your thoughts when you see a dad carrying a baby while the mom walks around hands-free. Observe your thoughts when you see two people laughing and hugging.
Let’s really take some time to understand how we observe and interpret the people we encounter.
In Part 2, we continue our discussion and uncover a fundamental flaw in our current method that limits our thinking and creates barriers in relationships. I encourage you to first mentally digest this article before continuing on to Part 2. When you have fully reflected and are ready to continue, click here: Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 2 – Why Our Way Is Stupid.