THE BLOG
02/29/2012 09:24 am ET Updated Apr 30, 2012

Why You Should Break the Habit of Snap Judgments

Dictionaries specify that the word "judgment" refers to the process of forming an opinion after careful consideration. Judgments have their place in a court of law where, by social agreement, authority is granted to a judge or jury to determine whether or not someone's behavior is or is not in accordance with the law. However, while no one has granted us the authority to play judge and jury in our personal lives, most of us make snap judgments all the time declaring our approval or disapproval of whatever and whomever we are observing or experiencing. The problem is that these snap judgments forgo careful consideration, and are typically merely the automatic expression of our personal prejudices and pet peeves. They happen so fast that we often have trouble distinguishing between our judgments and reality, and sometimes we are not even aware of the fact that we are judging ourselves or others. These little judgments, whether we say them out loud or not, are often extremely damaging to those we judge.

Typically, our point of view is built upon thousands of little snap judgments and assumptions we make about who and what we encounter in our lives. This amalgamation becomes so familiar to us that we seldom question its veracity. Here's an experiment for you. Spend about five minutes observing your mind chatter while out in public without judging what you hear yourself thinking. Notice how often you make snap judgments. For example, "He could afford to lose a few pounds," or "I really love the color of her hair," or "Oh, yuck, it's raining." Now, you might say those aren't judgments, they are observations. On closer inspection, notice that each of these statements probably carried with it a level of approval or disapproval, which is what makes them judgments. Observations have no emotional charge -- no personal vote for or against what is being seen or experienced. For example, "It's raining. I'll get an umbrella," has no charge.

Snap judgments are a form of positional thinking -- right/wrong, good/bad, desirable/undesirable. Energetically, each time we make one of these judgments, we are either accepting or rejecting someone or something. When the vote is positive, there is no harm unless it occurs in a relationship where one person's sense of self-worth is dependent upon the approval of the other. When snap judgments are negative, they are a form of emotional pollution and depending on the intensity of the judgment, they can impart psychic violence. For example, just recently, I was with a friend and her husband. She did a few things that annoyed him. While I understood why he was perturbed, I was shocked by the vehemence of his verbal reaction to her. I literally felt my body automatically contract in fear, and his remarks were not even directed at me.

Whether spoken or not, snap judgments have a powerful influence on us and the emotional environment we share. Psychologists and linguists have estimated that about 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, with one UCLA study finding that as much as 93 percent of communication is dictated by nonverbal factors.

Energetically, imagine how much damage all these judgments are doing to people. Consider the overweight man. Don't you think he knows or feels that people are judging him? What would it be like for him if he received an overwhelming amount of compassion rather than judgment? Do you think he would notice the difference?

For many, judgment is a way of life. Did you ever meet one of those people who thinks he or she is always right? They can be very convincing and so emphatic that it can be disarming to stand in a different point of view. Even without an audience, we can be so used to our own points of view that anything or anyone who doesn't agree with us can be immediately seen to be false and be rejected like a knee-jerk reaction, without consideration of possible merit.

Imagine what might happen if we all started to hold ourselves accountable for the impact our snap judgments have on others. What if my friend's husband observed her behavior with more neutrality and saw the situation as a time when he needed to dig a little deeper to access his love for her rather than thoughtlessly attacking her in front of her friend? We always have kinder options available to us. The trick is having the sense to choose them. This takes practice, but just as snap judgments can become a habitual behavior, so can kindness. We just have to choose to be conscious and responsible for our behavior and practice, practice, practice kinder reactions to each other.

A negative snap judgment carries with it some kind of rejection and punishment. It may simply be the act of pulling ourselves back from the other person, creating separation. Or it can involve the spewing of a lot of negative attitude and lack of cooperation, or fists might fly. The kinder alternative is to establish the habit of reacting with greater neutrality by simply observing what is happening and calmly communicating your concerns and preferences with clarity and kindness. People aren't wrong because they don't agree with you. They just see things differently from their point of view. Cultivate an attitude of curiosity to better understand why others look and behave in ways other than what you prefer. You might be surprised how much compassion you feel when you choose to contribute to a safe emotional environment for everyone.


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