Why so judgy?

If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

We judge people. We judge people all the time. It’s total bullshit when you hear a friend saying, “Oh, I don’t judge people. You can tell me anything; it’s fine.” He still will judge you, at least subconsciously. We can’t help it. As humans, we can’t help many things. Like envy or anger.

However, that doesn’t make it okay. As difficult as it is, we are morally obligated to get rid of such negativity. Believing that judging feeds the ego, I had tried for the longest time to pay specific attention to my thoughts so that I do not judge others.

But I kept slipping back into habit. And each time it happened, my disappointment in my complete lack of mental discipline swelled. I constantly became frustrated with myself. I attempted telling myself that I can only truly begin to accept my own flaws when I stop judging others for theirs. Of course, this is assuming that I am making a correct judgment of their flaws. If what I perceived is off the mark, then that’s worse. All the more I should project my judgements through the mirror, instead of through the glass.

So it took me quite a while to come to a realisation that judging people isn’t only natural and inevitable, like free fall, but necessary. Judging people wrongly (or pettily) might be negative, but otherwise, it is actually important to learn to have an accurate measure of how you would want to engage with them.

This doesn’t mean we need not exercise control over our thoughts about others. If you have the tendency to jump to mean, surface level conclusions about anyone, it’s a still a bad thing.

Judging is usually a process.

Making a judgment about a person is rather simple, yet tricky. Simple because it is effortless, and tricky because it involves being both instinctive and logical.

At the start, you definitely will have your first impression of the person after your first encounter with him. This part is primarily instinctive. It is based on the way the person speaks, behaves and, especially, looks. Also, more significantly, it is based on how you feel about all that. Ever disliked or distrusted someone just because he or she feels off in terms of the vibes surrounding him or her? It’s all a perception. But it can be a bit logical too though. Normally there are clear tell-tale signs that says a lot about a person, which you notice, take note of and derive sound conclusions from.

As you continue interacting with that person, your judgement will deepen, mature and evolve, for the worse or the better. Often, a bad impression can turn into an okay or good one if the both parties eventually end up as friends. They may even have the ‘first impressions’ conversation with one another. This part of the process is more logical, as your shared experience with the person have had given you the time and chance to observe and learn things about him or her. Whatever you have learnt may not all be facts, but it surely is more solid than your initial perception. And with time, it solidifies even more.

Why would it being a mixture of both an instinctive and logical process make it tricky? That’s because you would need to balance both possibly conflicting sides. For example, logic might tell you that a person is being rude to you because he might have had a lousy day, but instinct would make you feel annoyed with his display of ugly emotions and automatically connect it to him being an ugly person inside. Or the opposite may happen: your instinct may lead you to like his affable manner, but logic may tell you that you shouldn’t immediately trust him to be the front that he is putting up. And all of this is significant because it will affect your dynamics with that person.

How should we judge someone?

When I was younger, I did not easily label anyone as nice, even if that individual was perfectly decent or friendly to me. I used to disregard comments such as, “Now that I am closer to her, I found out that she’s actually pretty nice.” It was a strong belief of mine that if someone was truly nice, it had to be apparent at all times, and with anyone. Obviously if you became her good friend, she would want to be nice to you.

I still believe this. Perhaps not so strongly. Now, I feel more appreciative that a person chooses to be nice to me, and that is enough. Which brings us to answer the question, “How should we judge someone?”

The best way to judge someone is by observing his relationships with others. Humans are rather complex, in a sense that, they exhibit different facets of personality in different relationships with different types of people. And what’s even more fascinating is that despite how an individual has a set of core, innate attributes that are relatively immutable, his relationships with others are always changing. He discovers new things about himself with his varied experience with all of them, and grows. Probably another reason as to why judging is a process. People change, partly because their relationships are dynamic. The worst thing that he exhibits in front of someone would be a good gauge of his most unfiltered self. And the best thing would be how he wants other to gauge him. Hence that quote by Sirius Black from Goblet of Fire at the beginning of this post.

Benefit of doubt

Speaking of a Harry Potter reference, this was shared around quite extensively for a long time:

Ron Weasley’s character is consciously written as somewhat racist. Not as racist as Malfoy, of course — he doesn’t scoff at Mudbloods and half-bloods, and he doesn’t see himself as superior at all. Still, he unquestionably accepts the inferior position of house elves (“they love serving”), when he finds out that Lupin’s werewolf his reaction is not only scared but also disgusted (“Don’t touch me!”) and he is clearly very uncomfortable finding out that Hagrid is half-giant (“giants are wild and savage”).
And this is brilliant. Because it demonstrates that racism isn’t only present in clearly malicious and evil people, in the Malfoys and Blacks — it’s also there in warm, kind, funny people who just happened to learn some pretty toxic things growing up in a pretty toxic society. And they can unlearn them too, with some time and effort. Ron eventually accepts Hagrid’s parentage, lets Lupin bandage his leg and in the final battle, he worries about the safety of the house elves.
Some people are prejudiced because they are evil, and some people are prejudiced because they don’t know better yet. And those people can learn better, and become better people. And that’s an important lesson. The lesson taught about discrimination shouldn’t be “Only evil people do it,” because then all readers will assume it doesn’t apply to them. Instead, old JK teaches us “You too are probably doing it, and you should stop ASAP.”

I absolutely loved this analysis. It resonated so deeply as I believe all of us undergo this struggle of failing to identify flaws that are buried deep, until something brings it to surface. And those flaws do not make a person bad. Good people like Ron can have them too.

Which is why it is always good to have a benefit of doubt before making a judgement. Rather than judging a person for a flaw, perhaps try judging his resistance in getting rid of that flaw.

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