I was sixteen when I first decided to make an effort not to judge other people. The power of controlling my own thought process was a new concept introduced to me by my mother. We were talking on the phone and while I can’t remember exactly what was said, I was telling her about my best friend at the time and how she always judged people. I vented about how my friend (let’s call her Anna) was bringing me down by her constant negative comments and judgments and how I felt that Anna should first meet someone before determining anything about them. My mom said something along the lines of, “well, why don’t you try to not judge people. Show Anna that you can stop a thought pattern and train your brain.” A light went off in my head. I could train my brain?! But why did my brain think a certain way already? How did it get to that point and how could I control it? My mom continued, “next time you’re at school or out in public, try to not judge people. Don’t look at parts of their bodies but see them as a whole. Don’t assess their clothing brands, but see that they have clothes on. Just think of people as individual humans without labels. This will allow you to think more freely and allow others to open up to you better.” I was confused. If I could control my thought process, then why did certain thoughts automatically pop into my head?
The next day I went to school and put this new concept to the test. I met up with Anna and some other friends before class. A pretty and popular girl walked by and right on cue, Anna made a negative comment about her hair. I spoke up, “yeah but at least she washed it this morning.” Anna scoffed, the bell rang, and we went to class. Later that day we found ourselves downtown. Anna began to make comments about people walking on the sidewalks. “Ugh, would you look at that man. He looks so dirty. What’s up with his sweater. He must be homeless,” said Anna. I spoke up again, “well maybe he has a home and a job and he gets paid so well that he doesn’t care to impress anyone. Maybe he is just eccentric.” Anna was not happy with me. While I had usually not participated in her assessment and judgement of people, I had always let her speak without challenging or confronting her. I used to think about and entertain the comments Anna would make, but this time, I started to stop those thoughts dead in their tracks. Unbeknownst to me, staying silent was a form of empowering Anna to keep up her antics. This is when I realized that my brain could be trained!
It was hard though. And it took some time…
I was battling my cognitive process, battling my friend’s opinions, and battling concepts that were taught to me by both the media and society. I was battling my own desire to fit in and my desire to speak from my heart. In the end, my heart won the battle. I realized that I was better off on my own vs. judge others just for the sake of fitting into a crowd. I realized that I could be my authentic self much more if I was not wasting my precious energy and brain cells on things that don’t matter, such as someone’s physical appearance.
“When we are judging everything we are learning nothing.” – Steve Maraboli
Freeing up my mind allowed me to be more true to myself. When I wasn’t bogged down with thoughts and assessments that truly meant nothing in the grand scheme of life, I freed up my brain to think of things that mattered to me personally. It allowed me to put my time and energy into my hobbies. It allowed me to pay attention to my true feelings and allowed me the capacity to learn more about myself. However, this has not come without some sort of trade-off. I’ve been called “weird” by so many people since deciding to be true to myself and actively not judge others. But I like to think that I am empowering others to be more authentic, more happy with themselves and overall less full of judgement. The people that call me weird are the same people that are afraid to live authentically. They are the ones that are living their lives adhering to what others expect them to do. And that is certainly not my ideal way to live!
These days, I avoid looking at covers of beauty, fashion and gossip magazines when I’m standing in the cashier line of grocery stores. I consider the fact that someone might be having a bad day if they seem grumpy. I consider that it could be laundry day if they aren’t dressed nicely. I wonder if a parent or a student was up all night and didn’t get any sleep if they have bags under their eyes. I try to see what is beneath an individual rather than judge them on appearance. And I sincerely hope people do the same to me….