Even though you may not consciously realize it, you are judging this sentence and the website on which you are reading it. In fact, you are, consciously or not, judging everything you encounter every day. That’s not a bad thing. After all, our survival depends on how well we can size up situations and respond to them.
Judging and responding, however, are different from being judgmental and reacting. These may seem like small semantic differences, but, actually, there is a world of difference between each of these things.
Judging allows you to size up a situation. It gives you room to respond to a situation or event as it evolves. Being judgmental forces you to decide if a situation is one you like or don’t like. It requires you to react to what you perceive without waiting to see if what you think you see is actually what is. In other words, judging helps you to weigh options, threats, and outcomes, whereas judgements are based on personal opinions and how you think things ought to be.
Likewise, responding allows to take a moment and let our immediate reaction to a situation pass before deciding what to do. Reacting is driven by the beliefs, biases, and prejudices of the unconscious mind. It is not a considered response. A response, on the other hand, comes more slowly. Using information from both the unconscious and the conscious mind, it will take into consideration both you and those around you.
Being judgmental and/or reacting leaves no room for change, growth, or conscious action. Judging and responding weigh the long term effects of your actions and tend to align with your core values.
When you are judgmental of people, places, customs, or behaviors, you place them in one of three categories: Positive, negative, or neutral. These are broad groupings that don’t allow you to appreciate the world around you. In using these labels, you force the world into boxes from which you can pick the things, people, and customs you like and approve of (positive), reject the ones that have garnered your disapproval (negative) and ignore the ones that you don’t understand or that don’t matter to your world (neutral).
Everyone has a voice in their head that tells them what they think of all the things they see, hear, or observe. Being able to get to a place of non-judgment means that you need to overcome that voice in your head. You wake up, you open your eyes and look out the window, and you see that it’s raining. And then the voice in your head makes a snap judgement, such as ‘What a dreadful day!’ Is it true that the day is dreadful? No, it just happens to be raining. How do you move from judgmental to nonjudgmental?
The first step is to notice that you are judging something. In fact, you are judging two things. You are judging the rain and its impact on the day as negative. You can reframe both of these things as neutral. Not only that, but you can override the voice in your head and note that it is raining and not assign a value to the rain or its impact on the day. In essence, though, you are still being judgmental by seeing the rain and the day as neutral. Putting something in the neutral category isn’t non-judgmental, it is a deferral of judgement. You are deciding to take a wait and see approach to the rain and the day, reserving your judgement for a later time.
The second step is to attempt to understand what is happening or what you see. This is an active mode where you try to ask questions and get more of a backstory. This is where you try to understand the reasons why something is the way it is. Maybe you had planned an outdoor outing for the day. Perhaps it has been raining for several days, and you want to see a little sunshine. Neither of these things gets at why it is raining, only how the rain affects you. The answer to why it is raining is outside your experiences or feelings. It might be raining because a cold front has come through or there is a weather system offshore, or for any number of meteorological reasons, but it has absolutely no relation to you or your feelings/needs/plans.
The third step is to accept something just as it is without judging it as positive, negative, or neutral. Even if you understand why it is raining, it is not always easy to accept that the weather is independent of what kind of day you will have. To accept the rain as a fact is to be able to separate the fact that it is raining from your plans, your feelings, and your desires.
The final step is to find value in the situation. In the case of rain, it is easy to realize that while it may not make you personally happy, it could be making other people (or animals or plants) happy. This means that you no longer look at what you observe as having a value in relation to you (positive, negative, or neutral), but rather to value things in relation to others. It means focusing on the value that comes from another person’s unique point of view.
By actively being non-judgmental, you move from centering the world around yourself to centering yourself in the world.
This transformation allows you to see that what you might judge negatively: dogs running loose in the street, people being loud late into the evening or early in the morning, people selling things on every corner, are not reflections of you or your worldview. They are reflections of other people, their circumstances, and their culture. Decentering yourself opens you up to more of life’s beauty and to a world in which any activity can be a wonderful, enriching experience if you take the time to pay attention to it. When you are being judgmental, you’re only seeing your interpretation of what’s there. Letting go of those judgement helps you see things as they actually are, and you can appreciate the positive qualities of where you are right now.
By actively being non-judgmental, you move from centering the world around yourself to centering yourself in the world. Once you can observe the world and the people in it from a position of non-judgment, you can learn to experience the world in a new way. Instead of looking at people and thinking, ‘Why would anyone do that?” You begin to look at the same behaviors/customs/ways of living and think, “That’s interesting. I wonder why that is the way it is?” This sense of wonder is what can make traveling (and life in general) mind-opening and amazing.
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