Thou shalt not judge and all.

Lately I’ve been beating myself over the head with the idea that maybe I’m a bit too judgmental.

Which, in the scheme of things really isn’t a bad thing to be. After all, being judgmental is likely a survival mechanism. A sort of reflex, if you will. It’s the root of discernment – and if you don’t learn early on how those things work, you likely will become so open minded your brains fall out.

(I hate that expression, I don’t know why I used it.)

Judgment is what keeps you alive, it prevents you from drinking the soured milk, from picking up that hitchhiker, from spending your rent money in Vegas. It also has you looking for and acknowledging red flags in people you don’t quite know but think you might know. And discussing those red flags with other judgmental people is a great way to see if your “friend” has the same value structure as you do, plus bonus points – it reiterates the learning and sharing of those standards.

But in being judgmental, in learning how to best funnel that energy of “assessment, then value-grading it,” I keep coming across an interesting tidbit – something I learned about eons ago during my college education, and it keeps coming up again now in my conversations (mostly with myself) about the purpose of judgment.

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All of us basically judge in the same way.

And it’s so consistent that we have names for what we do. In social psychology, there has been research showing that in general, we make assessments about the cause of a person’s behavior (ours or others’). The researchers call those assessments “attributions.” As in, we attribute the cause of a person’s behavior to “X.”

Because researchers love to name stuff, they came up with four main ways to classify attribution. Basically attributions all fall somewhere on this spectrum:
Stable vs. Instable
&
Internal vs. External

Internal causes are things like disposition and character, whereas external causes are things like the situation or circumstance. And stable causes are consistent, whereas unstable causes are accidental or based on efforts (or lack of).

So for example: if I get written up at school, and attribute it to something internal, I know it has to do with me and my behavior, whereas if it’s external, I could blame it on my teacher. And if it’s a an unstable cause, it could be that something unexpected came up and I or she just reacted the wrong way over something acute – vs. if it’s a stable cause, it’s because I or she just suck, all the time.

All this to say:

There’s this thing called the “Fundamental Attribution Error,” and “Self-Serving Bias” and they’re so common in human behavior they have their own official name within the world of social psychology.

Read: if you are normal, you’re doing this, too.

The Fundamental Attribution Error is defined as assuming that another person’s behavior is due to their internal and fixed (stable) flaws (such as their character).

Which is readily followed by the Self-Serving Bias, which is where you attribute your own behavior to external and unstable circumstances.

In short, if you’re judging someone else’s behavior, it’s because they’re a stupid ass, whereas when you’re judging your own, it’s because you were down on your luck and were doing the best you could with the situation that you were dealt.

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How this helps us:

Knowing about the human condition is a big part of making sure we, as intentional and cognizant humans, stop doing what keeps us like knuckle dragging apes… And it helps us to positively instill the changes that force us perform at our highest potential good.

When I catch myself judging, I use my behavior as a trigger to ask myself outright:

Am I attributing that person’s experience to their internal and unmoveable character?

And then I equally and forcefully remember that when I have had unfortunate circumstances that could easily be judged, I fiercely defend myself with, “May he who judge me find out just what this is like.”

While the triggered thoughts don’t necessarily stop me from doing the judging as a matter of practice, they do halt me in my tracks and remind me to have a little bit of compassion. Because I know damn well the person I’m judging very likely does not think of themselves as lazy or trashy… and instead believe they have had a series of seriously terrible unlucky experiences.

The moral of the story:

There are a lot of things we can look down at others for. And likely they view us in the exact same way. There’s a whole lot of wiggle room for empathy and compassion toward each other – and it only takes a second thought of, “am I doing the same thing I wish they wouldn’t do to me?” to make a difference.

If you liked this post, please comment below with one of the stories you suspect is holding you back!

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4 Comments

  1. Ugh so relatable! I am internally judgmental. I have the tendency to think negative thoughts about someone though I will be completely opposite externally. Very good reminders to “check” myself. It’s a constant battle.

    1. Michelle, I think we all do that. It’s easy to keep it to yourself- but better if we can have compassion as our next thought.

  2. I had never heard of this before in such a technical way, but yeah, this is definitely human nature. I have practiced hard at remembering we don’t know what a person’s story is before making a judgement (or stopping myself from making a judgement in the first place), but I have been struggling with this lately. A lot.

    1. Girl, me too. I am realizing just how judgemental I am. And it doesn’t feel great.

      Of course, I do it when I want to make myself feel BETTER.

      And that is ridiculous. I need to drink a smoothie or go for a walk instead of being a shit head.

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