Remember that word “ahimsa” from last week? In case you missed that post, ahimsa is the Sanskrit word for the concept of non-violence in your words, thoughts, and actions towards yourself and others. Last week I focused on ahimsa towards yourself and this week, I am going to focus on ahimsa towards others. Though really, you can’t completely separate the two because they generally go pretty hand in hand. The kinder you are to yourself, the more contentment and joy you have to spread to those around you and the less likely you are to turn to hurtful thoughts, words, and actions to make yourself feel better! Everybody wins!
Today the aspect of ahimsa I want to talk about is judgement. This is such a huge topic and there are so many ways we can improve in the ways we treat others and ourselves, but judgement is a particularly sneaky one. It is everywhere and often seemingly harmless, but in reality, it does quite a lot of damage.
Making snap judgements
When we judge other people, it is usually because we see something in them that we dislike in ourselves. I know this is very true for me. When I see someone who I think is being a “know-it-all” or insists on being right all the time, it drives me crazy and I know this is partly because I am afraid of being perceived that way myself. It frustrates me when I feel like I have to be right and so I judge it very harshly when I see it manifest in other people.
Judgements often pop up in our heads automatically and it doesn’t make you a bad person just because you had a mean or judgemental thought about someone – it is what you do after that thought that matters. You can either latch onto it and confirm for yourself that this person is in some way inferior, or unworthy of love, or deserves to be judged for something they have done, or you can simply notice the judgement and then let it pass on by without giving it much weight. As I say time and time again: you don’t have to believe everything you think.
Have you ever had a really strong first impression about someone and then later realized you were completely wrong about them? I have learned over and over that I am often mistaken as to what someone is really like when I first meet them and it takes a while of getting to know them and slowly peeling back the layers before I can really get a good impression of who they actually are. And yet we so often judge people based solely on the first few sentences they say to us, or the outfit we first see them in, or even just stories we have heard from people who know them. We make these judgements based on very little tangible information and once we have labeled someone in our minds, it can become difficult to change that label.
Again, we can’t really help these snap judgements – they are based on all sorts of conditioning, previous experiences, social constructs, etc. And sometimes we are right – maybe we get a bad feeling from someone who turns out to be a total creep, or we have an amazing first connection with someone who turns out to be our best friend, or life partner. But it is up to each of us to recognize that first impressions aren’t always reliable and it really is worth getting to know someone more than just surface level. Even if it is not someone that you are going to end up being besties with, we can generally learn a lot from each person’s story – you never know, they may surprise you!
Making ourselves a judge of others implies that we feel we have some sort of higher moral ground, that we are in some position to determine what is right and wrong about what someone else is doing. Of course, there are times when someone is doing something horrible that they deserve to be held accountable for, but for most of us, the things we judge on a daily basis are completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and have nothing to do with us or our lives. We judge parents for not being home more often, we judge a friend who eats more junk food than we do, we judge someone we see on the news for cheating on their spouse.
What a waste of time and energy! Sure, there are times when we need to take a hard look at the choices of someone close to us, or someone in power, and think about whether their actions really align with our own beliefs. We may need to reassess whether we really want that person in our life, or whether we really want to vote for them, or whether it is worth sharing our concerns with them and encouraging them to make actual change.
But these cases and pretty few and far between compared with how often we judge on a daily basis and our time would be much better spent if directed elsewhere – like thinking about all the ways we could brighten a stranger’s day, or reading a book about accessing our creativity, or finding new ways to incorporate chocolate into every meal!
Gabrielle Bernstein has written a book on this topic called “Judgement Detox”. I can’t vouch for the book, as I haven’t read it yet, but I did watch an interview with her about the book and that is what inspired this blog post. I loved the things she had to say about judgement and I can’t wait to gain even more insight and work towards detoxing myself when I finally read it!
So why is it so important not to judge others, to follow ahimsa not only with our words and actions but with our thoughts as well? Are we really hurting anyone if we think something mean but never say it out loud? Well, yes – we are hurting ourselves. These kinds of thoughts may temporarily make us feel better, they may give us a quick boost and a feeling of superiority, but they do not create long-lasting self-love or confidence. These “positive” feelings are cheap and short-lived and it won’t be long until we need another fix. If you need to put someone else down in order to feel better about yourself, you can bet you are operating from a place of fear, not love.
Think about how you feel immediately after you have made a harsh judgement of someone, especially if you have shared that judgement with someone else. It’s like eating some really greasy, deep-fried junk food. It may feel delicious in the moment, but it’s not long after that you start feeling heavy in the pit of your stomach and regretting your decision. It’s not a good feeling and it is rarely worth it.
In addition, judging others in this way disconnects us from the fact that we all come from the same place, that we are not truly individuals but all part of a greater universal whole. We are all longing for a sense of connection, of belonging, of love from ourselves and from others. When we judge, it moves us farther away from this goal, not closer.
In fact, the word yoga actually comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means “union”. It refers to the union of the individual with this greater universal whole. When we reach enlightenment, it is a place where nothing is separate from anything else and there is no longer a sense of self that is isolated from the rest of existence. The ego disappears and there is a sense of complete bliss, connection, and wholeness. How great does that sound!? And why on Earth would we want to fill our minds with thoughts that would take us further away from that state of absolute bliss?? THINK ABOUT IT.
To sum it all up…
In short, let’s all agree to judge less and love more. Judgement weakens us, it does not make us stronger. It comes from a place of insecurity and vulnerability and it does nothing to improve our relationships with others or with ourselves. It is far more valuable to spend your time focusing on what other people are doing well and how you can learn from them than it is to shame them for something you perceive as wrong, or not cool, or unhealthy.
If we want to follow the concept of ahimsa, we need to start from within and work our way outwards. When we have a strong foundation of love and acceptance for ourselves, we can extend that energy out towards those around us. When we are willing to forgive ourselves for being human, when we are willing to learn from our mistakes and use them as opportunities for growth rather than feeling ashamed, then we can support and encourage others to do the same.
So, the next time you find yourself having judgemental thoughts about yourself or someone else, take a moment to step back and observe that thought. Think about WHY you have just made that judgement – what about your past conditioning has caused you to think that way? Do you actually have all the information or are you filling in the blanks and making assumptions? Is it really something worth putting energy into or is it something you can easily let go of?
And then comes the really hard part – don’t judge yourself for having judgements!! It is normal, it is human, we all do it all the time and it is really hard not to. But again, it’s what we do with those automatic judgements that matters. And the more we practice ignoring them and setting them aside, the better we will become.
In fact, pretty soon, we’ll all be standing in one big circle holding hands across the world, singing “Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd and then having a huge drum circle and dancing naked around a fire and eating chocolate together. This is my vision of world peace – what’s yours???