Last week I stayed at an AirBnb. My host was an obese Russian man who sat on the couch smoking cigarettes and playing World of Warcraft all day.
His place was filthy with dirty dishes lying everywhere, and smelled like it hadn’t been cleaned in months. He would often be up all night playing video games, and would sleep in the middle of the day. He was a nice guy, but needless to say wasn’t an individual I would like to emulate my life after.
I hold myself to some pretty high standards from a productivity and efficiency standpoint, so naturally this didn’t vibe very well with me. I couldn’t help but shudder every time I saw him and simply shake my head.
I couldn’t fathom living a lifestyle just like he does, and I thought of him as less of a person due to the way he lives his life. Seeing him literally irked me every time, and the mere sight of him would literally piss me off and make me angry.
On around the 4th or 5th day of my stay, as I walked by him sleeping on the couch, I thought to myself, “look at this fat piece of crap sleeping in the middle of the day. What an utter waste of life. How could a grown man live like this?!”
But then as I walked out the door, I caught myself. I thought to myself, “What if this fat Russian man who smokes cigarettes and plays video games all day is actually a successful internet entrepreneur who sold his company for a few million dollars and now decides to spend his days living this way because he has financial freedom and this is what makes him happy? Would you judge him differently? What if he’s a part of the Russian mafia and escaped a horrible life and now has the opportunity to live in peace and spend his days as he pleases? Would you judge him differently?”
You bet your ass I would.
If either of these scenarios were indeed the case, my perspective and attitudes towards this man would have been completely different. Instead of loathing his existence, I would probably find him interesting. Instead of walking past him in disgust, I would probably want to share a glass of vodka with him and learn more about his story.
The judgements I was passing were preventing me from getting to know another human being who might have an equally fascinating story.
A week or two later I was on my way home from a friend’s place in an Uber. My driver was an old man who clearly had no idea where he was going and kept making wrong turns. Once again, the little judgmental devil on my shoulder peeped up and said “This old fuck has no idea where he is going and I have to pay the bill for it. Can’t speak any English either….”
Luckily I caught myself mid-sentence this time and thought to myself, “What if he’s in retirement and is having a hard time paying the bills? What if his wife or children are sick and he’s driving an Uber to make money to support his family?”
This immediately calmed me down and gave me a feeling of compassion and empathy for the man behind the wheel. I then started a conversation with him and could tell he was stressed out about making wrong turns. He was a new driver who was doing this to help his son get through school.
Going through these thought exercises made me think, “Why is it that I’m constantly walking around judging everyone I see?”
Am I so insecure with that my mental dialogue has to evaluate the people I see around me and make commentary on how they look and dress? Am I so shallow that the slightest difference makes me scoff or turn away in disgust?
Think about all the times you see an obese person eating McDonalds and instantly form judgements about their life. Think about all the times a girl wearing a short skirt is automatically labeled as slutty. Think about the guy who is loud at a restaurant and is instantly judged as “rude” although he might just be having a better time than you are. Think about when your parents saw a dude with a blue Mohawk and said “Thank god you don’t dress like that” (or at least mine did :P).
Could there be some truth to these judgements? Absolutely. The fat person at McDonalds should probably change their diet, the girl might actually be slutty, and the guy who is loud should probably be more considerate. The Russian dude from AirBnb could probably live a healthier lifestyle, and the Uber driver could probably get better at navigating the city.
But the point is, who gave us the authority to be the one passing the judgements on these people? Who am I to say how they should live their life? Who made me so high and mighty to decide what is right and wrong?
As George Carlin once said “Show me a guy who sits at home playing with his balls all day and I’ll show you a guy who isn’t causing anyone any problems!”
So what’s the solution? How can we stop being judgmental? We all might agree it’s not healthy to be judgmental, but if we don’t have an activity to replace it with, it’s very hard to simply say, “stop passing judgement on others.”
Instead, I propose that every time you find yourself passing judgement on someone, say to yourself “you never know what demons that person is dealing with.” When we look at people with this perspective, it’s an immediate antidote to whatever judgement you may have been passing.
Instead of forming an opinion, you can try to put yourself in their shoes and understand that they have issues, just like you do, and they’re simply trying to get through life in the way that they best understand how to.
The reality is, everyone has their problems, and we should be considerate of what they might be dealing with and use it as a means to bond with each other, instead of creating division.
When we judge we draw lines in the sand of “I’m different from you and I don’t agree with the way you live your life.”
Rather than coming together and understanding each other’s issues, we instead further divide and separate ourselves by passing judgements on how we are different from each other.
Rather than bonding over our common struggles, we isolate ourselves and find security in telling ourselves how we’re better than others.
It is impossible to be judgmental if you are empathetic and compassionate to someone. The two can’t coexist. When we are judgmental, we form our own opinions based on what we think that person should be doing with their life.
Instead, when you put yourself in another person’s shoes, you see things from how they might be thinking and seek to understand why they have made the decisions that they have made.
If you find yourself passing judgement, catch yourself, and then flip it as fast as you can. Someone is an asshole to you? Good, use it as a test and think to yourself “They’re probably just having a bad day.”
See someone who dresses a bit strange? Appreciate their unique sense of style and creativity.
Having a hard time working with someone and thinking to yourself “god this person is stupid”? Flip it and seek to understand why they are struggling and how you can help them catch up to speed.
Boss being mean? Maybe an investor is breathing down their neck and they are projecting their frustrations on to you, and by doing a better job you can put them in a good mood.
Treat every situation as an opportunity to catch yourself in your negative thought patterns and flip them into a positive.
Actively search out people who are different from you so that you can challenge your traditional ways of thinking and force yourself to think differently.
Start conversations with random strangers and find things that you can bond with them over.
There’s an opportunity to find connection with everyone whom you meet, the only thing in your way is judgement.
Stop looking at people for their differences, and try to find their similarities. Stop labeling people by what they do, how they dress, or what religion they are, and instead seek to understand their life history.
Go walk up to someone you would normally pass judgement on, and instead start a conversation with them. To quote Michael Jackson, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”
Now go outside and make someone smile 🙂
EDIT: A friend just read this and said to me, “interesting to look at it from the jealousy point of view — ‘wish I was that successful person’ when in reality they’ve worked their tits off.” I love this application of the technique, as it’s a great example at looking at someone’s life from their perspective, rather than your own. Instead of being jealous, you look at it from their perspective and think about how much work they put in to get where they are.
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
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Also published on Medium.