THE BLOG
12/25/2010 12:03 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Recognizing the Distinction Between Observation and Judgment

We observe something when we become aware of it. We acknowledge "this is so." We judge when we form an opinion, as in "I think this about that." Observation is a neutral act of taking in information upon which we base our responses. Judgment involves rendering an opinion regarding the relative value or merit of what is being observed. We get into dicey territory when we start judging each other for three reasons:

  • As self-appointed judges, we separate ourselves from the other person. Blinded by our own judgment, we label them with our verdicts. Seeing only with our minds, we shut our hearts to them. As Mother Teresa said, "if you judge people, you have no time to love them." And, as Carl Jung said, "we should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect. The judgment of the intellect is only part of the truth."
  • Judgments are proclamations of polarized thinking and whether or not others buy into our judgments, we usually become vested in them. We often confuse our judgments with reality as in "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts."
  • It is important to remember that we are limited in our understanding of another person's life by our own range of experience. As the proverb goes, "don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes."

I had an experience recently that inspired this article. I was with a group of people and found myself rather ill at ease. The person who seemed to be setting the tone of the gathering repeatedly made choices other than those that would have been my preference. Suddenly, I became aware of how I was not simply observing this, but was making her wrong in the theater of my mind and essentially blaming her for my sense of separation. Everything was her fault from my point of view.

As I became increasingly irritated, I finally had the awareness that I was the one who was creating my sense of separation and justifying it with my judgments of this woman. This understanding opened up new possibilities for me. I began to pay closer attention to my judgments and each time I caught myself in the act, I quickly rephrased my judgment into a neutral statement of personal preference inside my mind. Energetically, this meant I was not making her wrong, but simply noticing that I was experiencing irritation by comparing her choice to my own preference. I did all that in my mind.

It then occurred to me that I was creating disharmony within myself and had the option of choosing to be more loving and peaceful instead. So, I started making that choice. Instead of seeing only what irritated me, I looked more deeply and was able to see the goodness in this woman as well. Before I knew it, I had shifted my attention to where it belonged -- to affirming my intention of being more loving and peaceful and finding ways to do that rather than separating myself through my judgments. Soon, I was focusing on how grateful I was for this lesson in the distinction between observation and judgment.

Then, as I was leaving, this woman extended a kindness to me that reminded me that there are many ways to express our loving and it behooves us to be open to them all, rather than judging and rejecting those that do not resemble our own way of doing things. As Carl Jung said, "everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."

Sometimes we meet people who simply do not know how else to relate to us than through judgment. Some behave this way with all people, others with only certain people as though they are allergic to them. I have experienced this with a relative who has disapproved of me all my life. As a child, I always felt rejected by her, and, as children do, I stood on my head trying to get her approval. I also fell into the trap of judging her in response to her criticisms of me.

As I matured, I tried to reason with her in an attempt to heal our relationship, but she was not interested in that. In time, I became aware of the fact that her judgment of me not only affected our relationship, but it colored all relationships in our family. Finally, I saw that there were always three people in the room when we were together -- me, her and the figment of her imagination that she called by my name. That awareness became my path to freedom. I realized that she was as trapped in her judgment of me as I was. The difference was that I could get out of it and she was not yet able to do so.

As a grown woman, I finally saw that our relationship was a clear manifestation of Einstein's definition of insanity -- "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." My liberation came when I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. Recognizing that her judgment of me was none of my business, but that my own well-being was my responsibility, I chose to end all contact with her. As a result, my life is far more peaceful. When I think of her now, I do not allow myself to judge her. I pray for her and wish her well from afar while going about my own business of holding myself accountable for my inner and outer life and for my contribution to the quality of the relationships in my life.

We can never judge the lives of others,
because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.
It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path,
but it's another to think that yours is the only path.
(Paulo Coelho)

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