I’ve written about this topic before. It is deep and multifaceted. It has the ability to trip us up again and again. It can be a roadblock or gateway depending on if we are looking inside or outside. I know because I’ve danced with it for years. What am I talking about? Judgment. Someone commented to me recently that I use the word “judgment” or “judge” frequently. I use it as I’m attempting to understand communication and styles. I use it as I’m reflecting on my own willingness to stretch or to take a positive risk. And I use it when I’m trying to make sense of the world around me. The Purpose of Judgment
From my vantage point, the purpose of judgment is to help us weigh options and inform choices. It’s important that we allocate our resources (time, finances, energy, spirit, etc.) in ways that enable us to continue on our journey, in all the ways we most desire. Through the judging process, we select whatever we bring into our lives or leave out—depending on what is perfect for us. Judging helps each of us determine our goals and how we want to proceed on our journey towards them. Judging becomes a hurdle when the focus is on others instead of ourselves and when we project our values (including our decisions and choices) onto others because we think we know what is good for them. When I’m coaching, I refer to these as “shoulds.” Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t should on me.” When we should on someone, we are judging their choices or decisions or options through our own lens and perspective, by what we believe is right or wrong. An example came up in a dialogue I was having with a friend. There is a street I drive on several times per week. There is also a houseless person who traverses this street. He has two or three shopping carts piled high with his possessions. My statement to my friend was “Wow. That is hard work. Regardless of the heat, the rain or the traffic, this man is moving all his possessions with him all day, every day.” Her reaction was that when she sees houseless or homeless people, she can’t help but think about what they should do based on what she would do if she were in their shoes. And she becomes frustrated that they don’t do whatever it takes to get back to her idea of a stabilized state. This is a delicate topic, and I’m choosing it not because I want to create a piece on homelessness or what should be done. But I want to invite you to explore the mental energy, the triggering, and the tension that is created internally when we judge others through the lens of what we have determined to be right for ourselves. Now read that statement again. “The tension that is created internally when we judge others through the lens of what we have determined to be right for ourselves.” I used to judge others like it was my job. I knew what was best for everyone. I had a great deal of stress and internal tension generated by the belief that I had to tell them. It fed into my “I have to save the world” frenzy. And it left me depleted and disconnected. Then my friend and colleague Bart Crawford shined a spotlight on my judgment, which began my journey to reduce inner tension by letting go of my attachment and focus on what others should do. We were leaving a grocery store in Gallup, NM and in the parking lot there were a few people who had selected a lifestyle differing from mine. I made a comment about how sorry I felt for how unhappy they must be. I pitied them. Bart was quick to ask me what made me believe they weren’t happy or that I was happier than they were. I was blown away. How could anyone who did not strive to lead their life in alignment with what I had determined was best for me possibly be happy? I realized that by looking at others through the lens of what I had determined to be right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy for me, I had also set up rules by which to judge others. Wow! Was that ever exhausting. In his thoughtful and caring way he inquired around my ideas of how life “should” be and hinted at how privilege might possibly be making me think I know what is right and wrong. He was gentle in his inquiry, leaving me space to explore my own judgments. I’ve had several years of exploration and as many years of practice in catching myself when I observe someone and then have a thought about what that person should or should not do. The question of where judgment creates a roadblock is even more substantial in my coaching practice. As a coach, my role is not to judge and prescribe in alignment with what I believe is right or wrong, but instead to hold space for the client to look deep and choose what is best for them. My commitment to myself to only be the judge of myself has become even more challenged as my daughters have become adults—leading their own lives, finding their own way, building their own families, and raising their own children. I have to literally stop myself many times when I begin with “You should…” or “If I were you I would….” Sometimes the least I can do is say, “Let me know if you’d like my thoughts on that.” The payoff is that the tension created when I hold onto the belief that I know what the other should do has left. And in its place is a sense of peace. I am able to love those I love in their entirety as they are. I am able to be the learner. I am more connected. The urgency to convey what I know to be best for me as if it were also best for them has left. I have more energy for my own journey simply because I spend far less time judging the journey of others. And as a result, connections are deeper and more authentic. I come back to this topic again and again because I myself am exploring it. Someone asked me, “Does it mean you just forgive everyone regardless of how they show up or what they’ve done?” Again, that is an individual choice, however, when someone’s behavior or choices create energy that I don’t want in my life, I avoid judging them and instead determine what is disruptive or calming, healthy or unhealthy, positive or negative for me. Then I am able to then create boundaries that help keep me on my journey and working toward my goals. I can do it without having to blame or shame. I do it because it is what I’ve chosen for me. And yes, sometimes I decide to create a boundary that means I’m no longer connected to a person, but that is done because it is best for me, not to facilitate or manipulate a change in them. As we navigate challenging times, it is critical that we are able to use our judgment to determine what is best for ourselves while not forcing that on others. Grace is in the space, and the space is created by releasing the inner tension created when we are compelled to should on others. And if it comes to it, whether we forgive or not, we are able to create the boundaries necessary for us to care for our own wellness and journey.
Notice for the next few days when you feel compelled to should or when you hear yourself judging someone else’s actions based on how you would want to proceed. And then feel for where tension has been created inside of you and simply breathe into that space. Allow them to choose for themselves. Trust them to know what is best for them. And if you love them, then love the whole of them. If you respect them, respect them in their entirety. You will feel the release.
Have you had to work with that person who is too valuable to fire but whose communication and leadership style continually make others cringe and put the company at risk? Beth Wonson’s unique combination of experience as a business leader, a non-profit leader and 20 years consulting on team development, organizational change and coaching leaders, make her the go to person for transforming personnel liabilities into personnel assets.