Posts Tagged being understanding

Why Judge?

All day long, I judge people. Most of the people I judge are people I’ve never met. As a professional recruiter, I get paid to pass shrewd judgement on strangers. My clients expect it. They only want to see candidates who are legitimate contenders for their positions. I do the dirty work, so they don’t have to.

When I step away from my desk, I’m weary from this responsibility, and don’t want to continue it in my personal life. Perhaps that’s why I’m so baffled when others rush to judgement or treat judging as some sort of hobby worth sharing.

Recently, our country was divided by a conundrum with no sound basis for judgement on either side. Unless we were there, it’s impossible to know what happened between Judge Cavanaugh and Dr. Ford, yet, there we were, lined up on opposite sides, driven by our own dogma, loudly proclaiming what we believe to be true.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to politics. Sit with a group of disgruntled sports fans and watch the assessments (most of them highly unqualified) fly. Even worse are the Internet message boards where over-zealous fans enjoy anonymity. In my state lately, the message boards are where middle-aged men offer their assessments of the character of young football players who they have never met.

Why do we insist on judging others, especially when it’s such an inaccurate science? I did some research on this, and learned a few things.

Judging strangers is natural. Our brains are programmed with data accumulated throughout our lives, and when encountering stimuli, like a stranger’s face, they react by subconsciously categorizing that stimuli based on previous experiences. We rely on that instinct to keep us from meticulously studying every stimulus we encounter. Without it, dealing with everyday situations would be impossible.

You can’t possibly walk through a crowded public area, like an airport, and accurately judge everyone you see. There is just way too much data to process. Similarly, in my role as a recruiter, I encounter hundreds of potential candidates each day. If I devoted several minutes to my evaluation of each candidate, I would never get to the candidates who my clients might want to hire. Instead, I rely on quick judgements that are based on years of experience and are fairly reliable to help me navigate through the data. Still, I acknowledge and must accept the possibility that I miss potential talent. Judgement is rarely ever failproof.

It’s when we decide to judge someone more thoroughly that we must be most careful. Even though our subconscious might initially push us in a prejudiced direction, we need to decide if that initial judgement is accurate. One of the most interesting articles I found in my research is Why We Judge Others (

In this article, the author says that most judgements are formed either by personality or situational attributions. We tend to make judgements on strangers based on personality attribution. In other words, since we don’t know them, we use our observations to judge their personalities. We might see a young person with his hat on backwards and pants hanging precariously from his rear end, and decide that he’s threatening and disrespectful. If that person was our nephew, we would likely attribute his behavior to the situation: he’s a young man asserting his independence and individuality.

I think that’s why the Kavanaugh supreme court confirmation drama divided us so deeply. Half of us identified with Dr. Ford, while the other half identified with Judge Kavanaugh. When you identify with someone, you typically judge them based on the situation, and those judgements are almost always kinder.

I also think that it’s important to be mindful of this tendency, so we don’t unfairly judge others. When I evaluate candidates, I tend to be more forgiving with those with whom I can closely identify. That’s natural, but if I’m aware of this tendency, I can correct it and be more equitable.

This applies in everyday life too. When someone cuts me off in traffic, after I choke back my verbal assessment of their personality, I try to make a situational attribution: maybe they really need to find a restroom or they were just too distracted to realize the way that they were driving.

Judging others is an awesome responsibility that we should not take lightly. If we approached it with a little more awareness and kindness, I think that we would be happier people.


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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I could stand to be more empathetic. I’ve suspected that for a while now, but it became more obvious this week, when snow kept me from the gym.

More often than not, Midwesterners do a good job of clearing sidewalks and parking lots after snow storms, but my gym is an exception. The owners and/or management who took control about a year ago seem to have adopted the Southern response to winter precipitation, i.e. leave it alone and let the sun take care of it. If they do happen to use a shovel, they clear the most meager of paths. They recently cleared a narrow path next to the building by the handicapped parking, leaving a ridge of snow between the parking spots and the cleared area. They might as well have saved the effort – there aren’t very many skilled high-jumpers or hurdlers where I park.

Detachment like that leaves me shaking my head and asking questions. Don’t they understand that gym patrons, particularly those who park where I do, need a cleared surface in order to enter the gym safely? If they spent a day in my shoes, they would realize how dangerous slippery surfaces can be. There’s the catch: they’ve never been in my shoes, and because of that, they likely lack the empathy that an experience like that would provide.

It’s hard to be as empathetic as we should be, because we rarely understand the full extent of most challenges. We look derisively at the mother using food stamps or the scowling teenager at the mall, because we’re so sure that we’re superior or could do better in their shoes. Yet, we don’t know their entire story. If we did, we would probably be embarrassed by our attitude. Many times, our judgment isn’t as sound as we believe it to be.

Before age and the wear and tear of my awkward gait took its toll on my body, I often scoffed at the numerous handicapped parking stalls at gyms. Are there really that many handicapped people in a gym, I thought to myself. If I could park in a regular spot and walk in, so too should almost anyone else. I learned the hard way just how wrong I was.

That’s not where the irony ends. My experiences with a physical handicap occasionally give me an unfounded sense of superiority, especially in areas of effort. If I could do it, why can’t they? In thinking like this, I discount all of my other advantages and likely discount the challenges of those I judge. There’s almost always an untold story.

I was at a high school basketball game a few years back, and the volunteer keeping the clock was struggling. It was a tight game where every play mattered, and this poor guy kept screwing up the time. He’d either stop the clock too soon or too late, and the bleachers were full of people eager to point out his mistakes. More than once, the game had to be stopped to allow for a scoreboard adjustment. I had a similar experience in the same role at a youth football game, so I could empathize with his situation. I silently wished that those sitting around me had such empathy, as I watched him get flustered.

None of us knew that he had brain cancer and would die after a three-year struggle. I’m not even sure if the cancer was affecting him at the time or if he had even been diagnosed. When I learned of the diagnosis though, I immediately thought back to that game and wondered how many boo-birds regretted their behavior that night.

A lack of empathy toward my sidewalk challenges at the gym made me look internally at my own shortcomings in that area. Don’t wait until something like this happens to you. Strive to be more empathetic. It can’t hurt.

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