Those who know me well, know that I look forward to my birthday every year. I particularly love hearing from people near and far. It’s an excuse to get in touch with those I love and care about, and I take full advantage of that.
A couple of weeks ago I completed another trip around the sun. I had a lovely day and as usual enjoyed the phone calls and messages. The day after, once the hype was settled, I started reflecting on who I had talked to, how fun it was, and who I had not heard from. I realized some people had not reached out and started noticing some emotions and sensations in my body. I brought my attention to it to understand what was going on and was surprised with what I found out: I was having a very different reaction to each of the people that did not show up. In particular, I got quite upset with one of them (let’s call them person #1) and not with another (person #2). They both had the same behavior (did not reach out to wish me happy birthday). And yet, how I felt about each of them was not at all the same. The reality I was seeing and experiencing derived from the thoughts created inside my head, not from the facts.
Person #1 is someone I tend to judge a lot. They are important in my life, and the relationship has always been a bit tricky. I noticed that I like to find reasons to criticize them, it’s a habit. And not reaching out on my special day was a perfect, justifiable reason to make them wrong and bad. Person #2 is someone I have a very easy relationship with. I admire them and cherish their presence in my life. And in my mind, not reaching out meant nothing other than they must be busy or have forgotten. It meant nothing about who they are, there was no judgment. In summary, I made person #1 wrong and and person #2 not.
I am sharing this to first remind you to reach out on my birthday (July 20th!), I love hearing from you:) But most importantly, because this event illustrates how sometimes (or oftentimes for some of us) we react to people a lot more based on how we see or judge them than based on the actual facts of the situation. Our judgments cloud our perception and dictate how we perceive things.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the host described a situation where a female politician was in a professional setting when she was approached from behind by a man. He whispered something in her ear while putting his hands around her waist. The woman claimed sexual harassment, the man denied. The woman was from Brazil’s Democratic party, the man from the Republican party. Democrats were fast to support the woman while all Republicans supported the man (and if you are reading this and you support one of those parties, I invite you to notice how you are reacting to the situation described). The podcast host then brought up another episode that had happened a while before, very similar to this one. But in that instance the roles were switched: the Republican woman was accusing the Democrat man of sexual harassment for behaving pretty much the same way as the man from the latest incident. And once again with full support from their respective parties. Same situation, different opinion based on the political party of the people involved.
This example illustrates one more time how we are predisposed to judge people and create a reality based on how we perceive them, and not necessarily based on their actions or the facts.
Judging people can lead to bias, misunderstandings, conflicts, missed opportunities, lack of empathy, separation, to name a few. The opposite of judgment is curiosity. When we find ourselves judging people, we are often drawing conclusions based on our own predispositions, not on actual facts. Engaging in curiosity enables growth, learning, empathy and connection.
One of my favorite lines from a statement I wrote about myself and the person I aspire to be every day is: “Judgment has no room in my life, instead I am curious and compassionate. Other people’s reactions and opinions of me give me information about their world, as I know who I am and nobody else can define me.”
Next time you find yourself judging someone (which includes judging yourself, by the way!), I encourage you to take a moment and replace the judgment with curiosity. Reflect on or ask the person what led them to do or say something. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You might be surprised with the answer. And if you are willing to share, I would love to hear what you find out and what happens to your relationship. Send me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, I read every single response.