I write a lot about judgment and non-judgmental behavior.
I won’t lie. I like to judge people. I decide whom I consider valuable or not, whom I think looks good or not, or has taste or social skills and so on.
People seem mortified after doing the exercise in “The most effective self-awareness exercise I know of.” Seeing their thoughts written out on paper and realize how much they judge themselves and other people fills them with shame, dread, embarrassment, and other feelings they don’t like. Telling them that every person who does the exercise finds out the same thing about themselves helps relieve those feelings.
Seeing everyone, without fail, find the same result has completely relieved me of those feelings I don’t like. It’s not that I’m judgmental. It’s that human beings are judgmental.
Just like we have arms, legs, and hair, we have a brain that judges. I see no more reason to feel shame over having the mind I was born with than for having the kneecaps or liver I was born with. Each functions how evolution selected it to.
I find understanding why we think how we do helps relieve those emotions we don’t like better than anything. The problem isn’t the judgmental thoughts, after all. It’s how they make us feel.
Why we judge each other
I look at how my mind works like I look at how any part of my body works—from an evolutionary perspective.
Humans are social. We developed a lot of behaviors to keep us in groups and those groups seem based on status. As best I can tell, having higher status helps us survive. People with higher status have greater access to resources, meaning when resources were scarce higher status people survived more than lower status. Status isn’t something physical like strength or posture. It’s social. It results from behavior. So for status, evolution doesn’t select something physical as with our thumbs becoming opposable.
With behaviors, evolution selects the motivations that produce it. We experience motivations as emotions and thoughts.
In other words, we evolved to care about status. We care about who is above and below whom, who is moving up the hierarchy, who is moving down, what determines rank, and so on. We experience those thoughts and feelings as judgment and what people call moral emotions. We think that way because our ancestors who thought that way behaved in ways that kept them alive and we inherited their behaviors, meaning their motivations, meaning their thoughts and emotions from them.
If you don’t like those emotions, maybe you wish you descended from ancestors without them, but the problem there is that their children didn’t survive. Or if they did, they diverged from our evolutionary branch a long time ago, probably before they were primates because every primate I know of is social.
What to do about it
I see two problems for most people regarding their judgmental thoughts and feelings.
- They feel bad about them.
- They lead to counterproductive behavior, especially because they have to filter how they communicate.
Regarding the unwanted feelings, I find the awareness above solves the issue for me. As I wrote, understanding and awareness leads me to feel no worse about the judgment in my thoughts than about that I need to trim my nails my whole life. This is the body I was born with.
Regarding the need to filter communications, I start by recognizing that thinking something isn’t the same as communicating it. I can’t see any problem with thinking any thought you want. Only your behavior and communication affects anyone else. As with any other communication, if you want to influence someone putting their interests first both increases your ability to influence and guides you how to communicate.
You can feel shame or related feelings about yourself if you want, but I don’t like those feelings, nor do I find they improve my life in this context. Instead, I recommend you celebrate who you are. Be careful about communicating judgment, but I don’t see a problem with your mind working how evolution designed it to.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book