6 accurate ways and 6 inaccurate ways to judge people

Modern, Western society condemns judging other people. We have the saying, “If you point your finger at someone else you have three fingers pointing back at you.” The Bible says, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” and even atheist tend to agree with that line. If you ever criticize someone you’re likely to be told, “What right do you have to judge me?” or “Who made you judge, jury and executioner? or “What makes you so great?”

It’s true that judging people often makes a hypocrite out of you, but not judging people validates their flaws and gives society free reign to be as flawed as it wants to be. At any rate, so what if you’re a hypocrite? That doesn’t mean you’re wrong about other people’s flaws, and it doesn’t mean you’re not doing them a favor by enlightening them to areas they need to improve themselves in. Finally, if people are flawed then they have a negative impact on society and on your life. That gives you every right to criticize them. You could even say it obligates you to criticize them.

In light of these justifications, I’d like to offer 6 ways to accurately judge people and 6 inaccurate ways that people often mistakenly use to judge others:

1. By the books you read

You are what you think. You are what you know. The best way to gain knowledge and improve yourself is by reading books. Furthermore, the books you choose to read reflect your values and goals. If someone can tell you every book they’ve ever read you could paint a pretty accurate picture of that person’s mind without knowing anything else about them. When I go into someone else’s house who I barely know the first thing I do is look for their book shelf. If they don’t have one that automatically tells me something about them. If they do have a book shelf then the books they choose to keep in their house will tell me more about them.

2. By the television shows you watch and the music you listen to (habitually)

In the same way books fill and shape your mind, so does television programs and music. The entertainment you choose to put into your head also reflects your values. However, if you told me one movie you’ve watched or one song you’ve heard I couldn’t discern much about you from just that. There could be any number of factors that led to you absorb that entertainment. However, if you all you watch is mindless sitcoms every single night that will tell me a lot about you, not just by the fact that you enjoy mindless stimulation but that you’re not spending your time doing other more intellectual or humanitarian activities. If you never watch documentaries that will tell me you don’t value seeking out knowledge as much as someone who does. If your entire album collection is rap music I could probably predict that you spent an irresponsible amount of money on your car and shoes. If all you listen to is Christian music then I could predict that you’re a Christian. If all you listen to is country music I could predict that you probably have an oversimplified and codependent view on love. If all you listen to is rock and roll I could predict that you value autonomy but express that value in how much you base your identity to rock and roll culture.

3. How you react to inconveniences

No action is an island. The way you behave in one situation is how you’re likely to behave in similar circumstances. If you freak out when you can’t find your shoe I can accurately predict that you’ll freak out over other meaningless inconveniences, and this is a sign that you have poor conflict management skills. I wouldn’t date you. If you treat your waitress rudely at a restaurant I can bet that you’ wouldn’t take my feelings into consideration in the future. If you gossip to me then I know you would gossip about me. If you fold under pressure like when you’re traveling abroad then I can predict that you would fold under pressure in other extreme situations. Granted, extreme situations are rare in life. So this won’t affect whether or not I’d choose to have you as a friend, I wouldn’t promote you at work if the decision was up to me.

4. By your philosophy on life

If you can tell me your philosophy on life then I don’t need to judge you. You’ll have told me everything I need to know about you in order to understand you. If you don’t have a philosophy then I’ll I know you’re wandering through life aimlessly and are prone to relatively volatile behavior and are swayed by social influence. I can count on one hand how many people I’ve met with a philosophy. If someone tells me their philosophy on life is a one line, vague answer like, “Love everybody.” then I know that not only do they not have a philosophy but they’re deluded. They may tend to think they’re right about things they know nothing about. If they say, “Kant once said…” or “Nietzsche once said…” then I’ll know that they get all their ideas from other people and don’t think for themselves. At least, they don’t think outside the intellectual paradigm they’ve been handed. Furthermore, they’re likely to be so sure of their intellectual supremacy that they’ll refuse to listen to contradicting ideas and will even condemn anyone who does for being intellectually inferior. Is this a brash over-generalization? Probably. Is it accurate more often than not? In my experience, yes.

5. By the questions you ask and the extent that you try to answer them

The amount of answers to life’s questions you understand is directly proportional to the amount of questions you ask. If you never ask questions or devote yourself to answering them then I’ll know you’re an ignorant person who accepts the status quo and will likely defend it. If the only questions you ask are, “What car should I buy?” “What’s on TV?” or “Who’s going to win the World Cup?” then I know that you’re a mindless consumer whore. You might be fun at parties, but your usefulness in life and to other people is on par with the entertaining distractions you can buy at the mall. If you ask questions about politics, psychology, economics and foreign cultures then I can predict that you’ll be an extremely useful and interesting person to have in my life.

6. By what you spend your money on

Money is a metaphor. A thousand dollars represents anything you can buy with a thousand dollars. It also represents the amount of time and work you’ve put into earning those dollars. So when you buy something with money you’re trading time and work for a good or service. You’re literally trading your life away. You’re practically paying with blood. So the things you choose to buy directly and immediately reflect your values. They show what you would trade your life for. If you buy a pointlessly expensive car then I can tell automatically that your life is empty. If you buy books then I know that you value growth. If you buy herbal supplements then I can tell that you value life. If you buy vacations I can tell that you’re adventurous.

6 inaccurate ways to judge people

1. By the possession of a college degree

A college degree tells you surprisingly little about a person. Human resource personnel who hire workers like to say that it shows you can commit to something big and follow through. To this I would respond, have you ever joined the military? Have you ever washed dishes at a restaurant? Have you ever cleaned toilets? Pauper’s work isn’t for the feint of heart. It takes more sacrifice and more grit than practically any other job.

Having a college degree tells me you could afford to go to college. Maybe that’s because you were smart enough to get a scholarship. Maybe you got a sports scholarship and got passed through all your classes unfairly. Maybe you were a spoiled frat boy who drank and fucked your way through 4 blurry years of fun and made D’s on half your classes, and the only reason you got that high of a grade is because you cheated. I don’t know. The fact that you have a college degree doesn’t necessarily tell me anything. I don’t even know what you learned. Every college. You could have gone to a worthless school where you didn’t learn anything. You could have had bumbling teachers who spent all semester talking about themselves. You could have majored in music, and while I would admire your musical talent, that wouldn’t have anything to do with what kind of a person you are. Some of the dumbest people I’ve known have had college degrees. Some of them even had doctorates.

2. By your rank

You could be a judge who is called “your honor,” a military officer who is called “sir,” a clergyman who is called “father,” a doctor is called “Dr.” or a CEO who commands the subservience of everyone who works for you. I don’t care what your rank is because rank is a social construct awarded by people, who are generally fools. Your rank doesn’t tell me anything about who you are, but if you rub your rank in other people’s faces that tells me immediately that your self worth is based on the opinions of others and the meaningless symbols they give you. Even if you’re the pope or the president. That doesn’t mean anything to me. You may have proven to your followers that you deserve respect, but I’ll judge you on more than your rank.

3. By your own level of confidence

How great you believe yourself to be is rarely indicative of your greatness. Likewise, an inferiority complex doesn’t necessarily reflect inferiority. The perfect example is gangstas who drive flashy cars and wave guns around. Nobody displays more confidence than a gangsta rapper, but few people are as petty and ignorant as gangsta rappers. On the other end of the scale, great scientists and artists can be extremely hard on themselves and have a low opinion of themselves even though they’ve accomplished more than most people ever will, but it’s their humility that gives them room to grow and motivates them to constantly improve themselves and their skill. Granted, some people create self-fulfilling prophecies by telling themselves they’re strong, capable people or weak, pathetic people. But your opinion of yourself (in and of itself) doesn’t tell me anything about you.

4. Your talent in any one skill

So you’re a great musician, painter, soldier, CEO or medical doctor. Great. Good for you. That tells me that you’re passionate or at least dedicated to one thing, but that’s all it tells me. You could still be the world’s biggest asshole. You could also be a great humanitarian. Your personality could be anything and everything. Just because you’re the best at what you do doesn’t tell me if you deserve respect or pity.

5. By your age

Growing old doesn’t necessarily reflect growing up. Some of the oldest people I know are some of the dumbest people I know. There was a time when growing old was a sign of strength and success. Now growing old is easy. There was a time when growing old gave you the power to beat younger people until they feared and respected you. That time is gone as well. Now you have to earn respect by being a good, intelligent, driven, wise person, and that doesn’t come automatically with age. That’s something you have to work on, and that’s something the young can accomplish as well as the old.

6. By your wealth

There are a lot of ways to make money. Some involve intelligence, a good work ethic, sacrifice and tenacity, but owning wealth is not mutually exclusive with success, intelligence or integrity. You can be a mean, stupid screw up and still become wealthy, especially if your parents were wealthy and well connected. In fact, some studies suggest that the more wealthy you are the more likely you are to be a heartless bastard. After all, the only way to get money is to take it from someone else. Thus, the formula for success in a capitalist economy is to pay your workers as little as possible while charging your customers as much as possible. This means the world’s richest men are the world’s best thieves. You can judge billionaires in this way, but when judging barely rich people you have to look at them on a case by case basis. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of ways to become poor, and being a virtueless bastard is only one of them. The quickest path to poverty is to be born to poor parents in a country where wages are as low as possible while cost of goods and housing are as high as possible and the cost of higher education is so expensive that it creates a glass ceiling. Regardless of what chance of financial success you’re born into, professional success is not the end-all purpose of human existence. Jesus and Buddha were penniless, and both of their philosophies centered around how much more important it is to be a good than to be rich and powerful. If you’re going to judge the success of a man’s life, wealth and power are not the primary criteria.

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Originally published at thewisesloth.com on May 24, 2010.