Sunday, April 19, 2015

Judgments: Sin or Catalyst for Growth?

Recently, I ran into a coworker at a community event, we'll call him Nick. He isn't someone I know well; he is at most an acquaintance.

When I saw him at the school carnival, I was surprised. He had a date with him, an attractive woman perhaps 8 or 10 years younger than he. Nick's date was a petite lady, very well-kept but friendly looking. I promise she was a cheerleader in high school, but the nice kind, the one who comes from a sweet family and is beloved by all. I imagine she's divorced, probably fairly recently, and has two kids, 6 and 8, both boys. They adore her he's a great Mom. She probably is going back to school to get her teaching certificate. This was likely a second or third date for them; I could tell by his hand on her elbow that they had not spent a lot of time together. And . . . I know I'd like her. She's a likeable person

I always pictured Nick with a different kind of gal, taller and more bohemian, like he. She was younger than I'd expected too. I remember being very surprised at the sight of them.

All of these thoughts flashed by in a part of a second. They may have passed unnoticed if I hadn't immediately been standing idle in a long line with plenty of processing time.What astounds me is that I had all of these judgements about Nick's date and I've never even met the lady! What's more, I had all of these previously unnoticed conclusions about Nick who is virtually a stranger to me!

Our Human Nature

Snap judgments are a part of human nature. Brain scientist Nicholas Rule has researched this:  We cannot train ourselves not to judge; it's what the human brain is made to do. In fact, the ability to make these instant decisions is what helps keep us safe in crisis. Which person do you ask for directions? Which kids should you avoid in the schoolyard? That person made you uncomfortable; you know to be wary and exercise caution. Sometimes the snap judgment is really about the other person and needs to be listened to. This is not a part of our brain we want to turn off.

Taking Advantage

At other times, the snap judgment is really about us. "It's not you, it's me!" For people of faith then, that leaves us with a dilemma; "Stop judging, that you may not be judged" is a core tenant of Christianity and, I suspect, many other faiths. The challenge then becomes not to turn-off or ignore the snap judgement, but the opposite, to notice it. Once noticed, the judgment can be the catalyst for personal growth; it can serve to sharpen our growth edges.

When we pick up on a judgment that isn't about keeping us safe and helping us choose between fight or flight, we get to look for the opportunity in it. In the case I cited, I realized I was feeling insecure about my age; I had a birthday right around the corner. Was I still "young?" Am I still pretty? Am I attractive "enough?" This chance encounter with an acquaintance and a complete stranger gifted me with the opportunity to notice some unconscious angst in myself and to get it handled before my birthday. I was able to celebrate my birthday without all that unconscious brain-chatter running in the background. It was one of my most relaxed birthdays in decades.

The next time I notice myself judging someone, instead of shushing it as I would a toddler in church, I am going to take a couple of breaths and look beneath it. You may want to try the same.