Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.
This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?
Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.
What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?
Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.
Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.
Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.
Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.
Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:
- The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
- The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.
If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.
If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.
Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.
Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?
Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.
If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.
- Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.
- Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.
- Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.
- Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?
LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!