How to Stop Being Judgemental


“All Frenchmen are like that.”

“But how do you know?”

“Listen — they all think they’re better than everyone else. It’s just how they are. When I was younger, I applied for a government job I was qualified for. You know who got it? An under-qualified Frenchman.”

“But why does that…”

“Bottom line — they’re taking all the jobs, even ones they’re not qualified for. It’s just how it is. Do you think that’s fair?”

Growing up, this was a typical conversation at holiday dinners. Sitting at the end of the long wooden dinner table, I’d stare at pickled carrots resting in their own sweat as relatives cursed. Every so often, I’d stop chomping on the dill-infused veggies and peep up, asking:

Why do you think that? Why are you so sure? Why can’t that change?

Which inevitably led to major eye-rolls and full-bellied laughter. The word naive was added to my vocabulary at a very young age: “It might as well be your middle name!” But I didn’t mind. I actually took it as a compliment. For me, listening to and questioning people’s beliefs was fun. It seemed like people just couldn’t be objective when their opinions were on the line.

(Now that I think about it, that’s a really odd thing to enjoy. I was a weird kid.)

To me, they were just silly adults who were too easily duped by their own biases. I didn’t want to be like that, so I kept questioning them. Surely if I did that, I’d be protected from this evil curse of adulthood.

But, eventually, that shield shattered, and I became "right" like them.

Phase 1: Become Right 

Enter 18-year-old me. A self-proclaimed feminist, with some strong opinions, mostly about the state of American pop-culture:

Robin Thicke? Awful. VS Fashion Show? Demeaning. Beyonce’s Run the World? Questionable.

These opinions crafted my identity: someone who believed in something worthwhile. If you threatened that identiy, I’d immediately write you off.

Facebook and Twitter timelines were my source of fuel, providing self-confirming articles, like Stop Jamming Out to Meghan Trainor’s Anti-Feminist Summer Anthem. They understood. They were right.

I became the master of judgement. “Is this right?” and “Is this fair?” guided my every thought.

Around this time, I started hating social gatherings. Don’t even get me started on going to clubs — I couldn’t handle it. “Let her in, she’s hot!” “He just came up and started dancing with me.” All the small, sexist things took bites of my soul, one at a time. The more bites, the more anger I’d build up inside, and the earlier I’d storm home.

Even family get-togethers became a painful experience. With relatives claiming their love for Blurred Lines, and saying “Sure, pretty girls should waitress. Who cares what they have to wear? The tips are worth it.” The anger would just boil and boil until snide comments eventually made their way out of my mouth.

They were wrong. The world was wrong. And that’s just how it was.

Phase 2: Realize You're Judgemental

With this anger in-tow, I stormed into a Women’s Studies class excited to meet people who understood: other people who were right.

And boy, did I find them.

They emerged in class discussions where they’d prey on people asking borderline-politically-incorrect questions. A pattern quickly emerged:

Ask a socially unacceptable question… get weird looks. Ask another… get shut down. Ask another … why are you here? 

As the semester progressed, discussions regressed. The strongly-opinionated dominated the class with one-sided, uninspired monologues. Everyone was too afraid to be the victim of their criticism.

Even I was afraid, knowing my words would be judged as soon as they left the safety of my mouth. So, I kept quiet.

But, I was still curious, so I brought my questions home to my roommates instead. Instead of being judged, my comments were met with a considerate attempt to understand:

Why do you think that? Why are you so sure? Why can’t that change?

And that was relieving.

Phase 3: Live in the Space

My brain still tells my face to resemble a beet when I hear a sexist remark. The thing is, now, I’ve learned about a magical gap.

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It’s the silent moment after hearing a sexist comment. It’s the beautiful breath before your reaction.

It’s this weird space that offers you a choice. And it exists throughout your day in tiny moments, one after another.

I try to live in that space now.

Why? Because bitterness turns people off. Hateful responses aren’t helpful, they’re unfair.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth” — Marcus Aurelius

Being right is pretty much impossible, so I’m going to try to stop striving for it. I’m going to fill that space with curiosity instead.

“If I have an opinion, you can gladly take it away from me. Every time I have a judgement about something, I change the punctuation at the end of the judgement from an exclamation point to a question mark.” — James Altucher