This month I’ve been looking at authenticity and what makes being authentic so scary for most people. Last week we talked about why the fear of rejection can make authenticity so elusive. This week we will focus on the judgments we make and those that are made about us. Once we have a deeper understanding of the judgments we make, every day, we can take control over that part of our psyche and overcome it, leading to a more authentic life and more authentic writing.
We all do it
Even though it’s not politically correct to make snap judgments about people based on very little information, we do it every day—in fact, multiple times a day. In many ways, it is a survival instinct of sorts. We have to be able to quickly sort through people and situations that are “safe” and those that aren’t.
Imagine you get into an elevator at 10 PM after a long day of (shopping, work, hanging out with friends, you name it). There is a guy who has a really angry look on his face, like he’s on his way to confront the guy who knocked over his Harley. There’s also a 5-foot tall woman in a cardigan and glasses holding a laptop case. She can’t stop looking at her toes. Who do you hope gets off the elevator first?
The Judgments we make are also a reflection of our value system
Everyone has a value system and the judgements we make reflect the values we personally hold. Imagine you are going out to eat. On your way into the restaurant, you glance toward the parking lot and you see a man get out of the driver’s side door to open the passenger door for his date. Do you look at this as a thoughtful act of a gentleman or as a gesture from the Stone Age that demeans men and women by placing them in a gender based power struggle? The answer will depend on your personal value system. Regardless, you will likely be making a judgment about what you see.
Let’s consider another parking lot situation
A middle-aged couple pulls into the last disabled parking space. They exit the car and walk into the store as you try to pick up your jaw at the gall. What if someone comes along who really needs that space? The lot is nearly full! The nerve of them. Right?
Wrong. That couple might be my husband and me. He is disabled and has a disabled placard which at times we use to park in the disabled parking spaces. Whether or not we use it depends on how my husband is doing that day. On the outside, he almost always looks healthy. After 6 years of fighting lung cancer, his insides say something different. There are times when he deals with extreme pain and times when he is terrible breathless and weak.
Still, it’s good for him to get out of the house when he can to get some fresh air and just feel like a person rather than a patient. The disabled parking space allows him to do that without using all his energy just to get from the car to the door of the store. Yet, we always wonder what people think as they see seemingly healthy people using that space.
My youngest daughter has Autism and it is quite noticeable. She is brilliant. In fact, perhaps the smartest person I know, personally. Yet, she struggles socially. Her linguistic patterns are different from neuro typical speech patterns. She usually avoids eye contact until she is quite comfortable with someone. She can be blunt, lacking tact. Top it off with the fact that she is a teenager and the average person might think she is just rude. Sometimes, it feels that way to me, and I know better!
So when we meet people, I am often overly fixated on what others are thinking. I want to tell a person that, “Just because she isn’t responding or looking at you, doesn’t mean she is being disrespectful.” Sometimes, I do if I can do so with a grace, and without demeaning my daughter. It’s hard. I think part of why I am so sensitive is because I have experienced snap judgments first hand—as the judge.
A Judgment I made which Haunts Me
I will never forget working at a small town grocery store as a teenager. It was the only grocery store in town and didn’t even have a conveyer belt. We still used “bag-boys” who would load up your groceries and carry them out to your car. I loved that job and the people I encountered every day. I learned so many nuggets of wisdom during that time. One of them has to do with the judgments we make.
I was having a good day. Everything was moving along nicely and I could see my lunch break in sight. Then I heard a noise. It was an obnoxious sound. After a minute I recognized it as coming from a kid. As I ran half of my customer’s groceries past the scanner and keyed in the rest (since our scanner didn’t work half of the time) the kid’s voice continued to emanate loudly from an unseen grocery aisle.
After one particularly loud outburst, I rolled my eyes in disgust. I don’t think I said it, but I thought to myself that some mother needed to get her kid under control. My customer stared at me coolly as if I was a monster.
I didn’t understand what I had done to offend her until a few minutes later when a new customer approached my register. It was a mother, as patient as a saint and her disabled son. He was louder than ever, now that he was in front of me. I knew instantly that I had been a fool. I had made a snap judgment without knowing all the facts. My previous customer probably thought I was very insensitive to this boy who couldn’t control his verbal ejaculations. I was. All of my life, I’ve looked back on that moment as one of my greatest shame, born of judgment without facts.
The Problem with the Judgments We Make
We almost never have all the facts. The person who seems rude may have just lost their job or had a fight with a family member. They may be swimming in bills or living with chronic pain. Because we are only seeing this person for a snippet of time, we have no idea what they are going through. The scowl on their face may have nothing to do with you at all.
The judgments we make perpetuate stereotypes. They spread like germs from one person to the next. We take something personally and then our irritation is seen by someone else and they make their judgments and pass them on, and so on.
How the Judgments We Make Point to Us
When we judge others, it is almost always by comparing them with ourselves. Comparisons are the devil’s playground.. We often make judgements to make ourselves feel better, but instead, we assume that others judging us as much as we are judging others. It becomes a catalyst for insecurity. Instead, we should put the brakes on this crazy cycle.
Start by gauging how much of a problem this is in your life. Take a trip out of your home for an hour or two. You might do this at work or in a store. As you walk along, notice your thoughts. How frequently do you think something about someone without knowing anything about them?
Now, interrupt this pattern. When you find yourself making a judgment about someone (good or bad) ask yourself:
- How do I know this for sure?
- Might there be some unknown reason behind this person’s behavior or appearance?
- Does it even matter? Does it affect my life?
Once you’ve thought through this, you will likely consider the fact that you may not know the whole story. This opens your mind up to accepting a person without putting a wall of judgment between you. It also allows you to think about yourself with more grace.
We are always going to make some judgments. That’s being human. The key is to try to limit the judgments we make to situations in which we have a basis for those judgments. What do the judgments we make have to do with our writing? By having a greater awareness of the judgments we make, and in turn, making them less, we will likely feel more secure about ourselves. This helps us to live—and write, more authentically. That’s a very good thing!
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:
I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.