In Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote, “It is not for me to judge another man’s life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.” In a book filled with poignant moments, this quote is the one I recall more than any other.
Judging others is easy – too easy, from my point of view. It allows me to pick and choose the moral or ethical code by which I judge them without risking my own righteous standing. It affords the instant luxury of selective memory through which I can wholly ignore the times in my own life that would never pass the muster of my scrutiny.
By all accounts, I’m pretty well-respected these days. I’ve done a lot of work on myself, but I’m not going to act like all of my positive attention is deserved. In nearly 50 years of life, I’ve hurt a lot of people. I’ve done a lot of stupid, even vindictive shit. There came a moment when I looked at myself and didn’t like who I saw. I saw myself for who I was and he wasn’t who I wanted to be.
Today I want you to pause when you look at someone with your mind set on judgment. You don’t have to know them to see them through compassionate eyes. You just have to remind yourself that you don’t know their story, that you haven’t lived their experience. With that pause, maybe you’ll be mindful that it doesn’t matter if you like or even agree with their choices because those choices are not yours to make.
It took a lot of trial and error (and error, and error…) to make a real shift away from the old me. Now I live my life directed by love and compassion, with my eyes focused through a lens of dignity and respect. I don’t see people for how they are acting in a moment; that moment may be colored by experiences I’m not privy to. The first thing I notice about someone is whether they are acting or reacting in that moment.
Someone who is reacting is in either a defensive or offensive mode, and that triggers the survival brain I’ve talked about before. When they are reacting, they are not in control. But the people who are acting are aware and informed. They know themselves well enough to maintain control of their own thoughts and behavior by not reacting to the thoughts and behaviors of others.
Judging someone? That’s a reaction, not an action. Instead, I challenge you to look at someone and ask yourself whether they are acting or reacting in that moment. When you see them, see them. Because people need to be seen, not judged.
And never forget that I love you.