Human Experience Project - Mirror

How to be Less Judgmental this Year

4 Ways to diminish judgment and increase kindness, perspective-taking, and understanding.

by Zoe Weil

Amidst all the ideas and resolutions we may have for 2023, here’s one that I believe is worthy of putting on all our lists: becoming less judgy.

Judginess is second nature to many of us, and these days it seems like the greater the judginess, the bigger the external reward, which makes resisting the urge even harder. The judgier the tweet, the more likes and retweets it seems to get. The judgier the pundit, the higher the ratings and the greater the viewership.

But I believe judginess is leading us to a cesspool of incivility, bullying, polarization, and pain. We need to stop. As someone who has been involved in the animal protection, environmental, social justice, and women’s rights movements for four decades, I have a lot of personal experience with judgmentalness. I’ve judged with the best of them, even if I’ve tried to keep the expression of my judginess within a narrow sphere of close friends and family.

Nonetheless, judginess has oozed out despite my best intentions. In my 20s, I regularly approached people wearing fur with a smile on my face and judginess in my heart as I handed them a card explaining the cruelty involved in their coat.

It was only after one woman in a full-length mink came up to me after reading the card, and called me out on my hurtful look, that I reconsidered. She told me she’d inherited the coat and explained its sentimental value. That didn’t change my opinion that wearing fur promotes and endorses animal cruelty, but it did soften my judginess of her personally.

Could I learn to separate judging peoples’ acts from judging them as individuals? Yes, but not easily. Thirty-five years after this incident, I’m still struggling with this challenge.

Here are 4 ways to become less judgmental:

  1. Distinguish between judging actions and judging people. There’s nothing wrong with judging actions. One of the most esteemed professions in the U.S. is being a judge. Being a good judge requires careful listening, deep reflection, equanimity, and wisdom in order to determine what penalties should be imposed for specific actions. Judges are supposed to bring objectivity and clarity of thought, not judginess, as they weigh their decisions carefully. So go ahead and judge actions, but do your best to separate the acts from the people who perpetrate them. The next steps will help make this first step easier.
  2. Ask yourself what you really know about the person you’re judging. We all have our histories and our baggage. We all live with various levels of reactivity, apathy, hurt, denial, anger, and hypocrisy. We’re all imperfect. You can consciously choose to cut the person you’re judging some slack, even as you may strive to influence them to change the behaviors you believe are worthy of judgment.
  3. Reflect upon how it feels to be judged yourself. Surely you’ve felt the sting of others’ judgments. How did that feel? Ask yourself if you really want to add to the suffering and pain of someone else. Unless the person has wronged you personally, chances are you don’t. Let this reflection temper your judginess.
  4. Notice the negative impacts of judginess on yourself and your relationships. There’s no doubt that judginess can be pleasurable, albeit in an unhealthy way. It can create bonds with those who share our judgments. It can, as mentioned above, gain attention and even a following. But ask yourself if it makes you happier or healthier. Does it feel good to judge others? To perseverate on their imperfections? To talk ill of someone to a friend and then realize that your friend might be noticing that they, too, could be the object of your judgmentalness if they do something you think is wrong? Now imagine the reverse: What might it be like to let go of judginess and accept others with all their imperfections even as you strive to influence them to take different actions? Might this be liberating?

For the suggestions above to work, you’ll need to ask yourself whether you really want to be less judgy. If the answer is yes, pay attention when judgmentalness arises. For this to be a true resolution, you’ll have to be mindful of judginess’s seemingly endless appearance in your psyche. You might want to consider this resolution as a kind of mindfulness practice. Just as thoughts arise when we meditate—and we notice them and return to paying attention to our breath—judginess will arise again and again, and we can return to paying attention to the four steps above.

Stating that becoming less judgy is the best New Year’s resolution is admittedly hyperbolic, especially given that I could have suggested that we resolve to make choices across the board that do more good and less harm to others. But just imagine if we built a culture in which judginess diminished, and kindness, perspective-taking, and understanding grew. Might we work together more effectively—as solutionaries rather than critics and debaters—to address our actual challenges, less revved up by outrage and more fired up to build a more just, healthy, and peaceful world? If a collective resolution could turn down the volume on endless criticism and turn up the volume on compassion and wisdom, it’s worth a try.

Originally posted on Psychology Today December 31, 2022.

The Institute for Humane Education (IHE) offers graduate programs, professional learning, and resources for teachers and changemakers looking to create a more just, sustainable, and humane future. IHE believes that educating people to be solutionaries is one of the most effective ways we can address the challenges we face.