Growing up in an agricultural center, I knew white people who liked to make offensive generalizations about the Mexican-Americans who worked the fields and were (so I was told) taking over the town.
But I also lived and went to school among said Mexican-Americans, and they seemed like regular people with some differences of culture and language. Some of them liked to make offensive generalizations about the white people.
College was my first experience living under the same roof with people who were gay, upper middle class, from other states, from Southern California (it’s like another state), African-American, Asian-American, Jewish, etc.
They were, to a person, just people.
These days, one of the most accepted things to judge people for is being or getting ‘fat.’ Fat-shaming comes not just in the form of speaking or acting in ways toward particular people perceived as overweight, but also in ostensibly innocuous forms such as those photo filters and apps that stretch out a face widthwise to make people of average weight appear ‘funny,’ where ‘funny’ equals overweight.
Unfortunately, having ventured up into a BMI range that qualified me as ‘severely obese’ and knowing what that felt like, I can’t get the giggles others do from such diversions.
It’s easy to judge people who are too thin.
If you have a few pounds to lose, please refrain from rolling your eyes. Certainly, there do exist people who are too thin and need medical or psychological treatment. Just as certainly, that treatment will not come in the form of you making catty remarks. Upon losing some weight, I found that I’d gone from ‘big guy’ to ‘guy who is losing too much weight and about whom I should now make eating disorder jokes’ in some people’s eyes. And those remarks, misplaced as they were, were just as hurtful as the others.
It’s easy to judge people who are alcoholics.
Although a teetotaler myself, I’ve spent some time living around alcoholics. Can they be exhausting, maddening people to maintain relationships with? Sure, but so can I. They can also be some of the most sensitive, thoughtful people you’ll encounter. Hence the resort to numbing out as a survival strategy. Anyway, take whatever proactive steps you feel are necessary to help them and/or protect yourself, but know that judgment alone accomplishes nothing and could very well do some extra damage.
It’s easy to judge people who enable or put up with addicts.
But I’ve seen loved ones caught in the riptide of loving the person beneath the addiction and hoping against hope that there’s some way to save them from themselves. I’ve also seen that anyone can get sucked into weird interpersonal dynamics. Thinking you’re stronger or smarter than that doesn’t automatically make it so.
It’s easy to judge people who are mentally ill, spinning out and behaving erratically in public. Or the families of those people, who are evidently not tending to their loved ones well enough to keep the craziness contained, and so inflicting it on the public at large.
But I’ve watched beloved family members in a state of decline and seen just how maddeningly little there is to be done when adult sufferers are denying their problems and refusing treatment but not yet posing an obvious, immediate threat. Sometimes, by the time they are posing a threat, it’s too late. Not the family’s fault. When it comes to the mentally ill person him- or herself, it’s strange to judge someone who is, by definition, not thinking right for a lack of awareness that that’s what’s happening.
I’ve never actually seen anyone do it, but I guess it must be easy to judge people who drive late-model cars to food banks and leave with free groceries. People like to complain, loudly and vehemently, about this allegedly widespread phenomenon.
But having seen the food sent off to food banks – sustenance, yes, but generally the sort of heavily-processed, off-brand, past-due stuff that most of the people complaining would be glad to toss out of their cupboards or slide down their garbage disposals – I’m basically of the mind that whoever finds it worth their time to pick up and use that food probably actually needs it to survive, and it’s really not our business to cross-examine them as to how that can be so.
It’s easy to judge people with disability placards whipping into prime parking spots and walking into stores just as briskly as you please. “Look, look! That guy’s not really disabled! What a racket!”
But I’ve watched my own mother struggle with acute plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis for years on end, so I know it’s possible for someone to walk perfectly fine for a hundred feet at a time and then be absolutely done. Just imagine: If you had to walk from the far end of the parking lot, you wouldn’t even be able to make it to the scooter inside the door without pains shooting up your legs for the rest of the day. Having been privy to my Mom’s long process of getting an accurate diagnosis for her condition and applying for the placard, I also know that placards are not handed out like Halloween candy. So probably most of the people who possess them actually do need them for one reason or another, even if those people are not visibly disabled enough for your liking.
It’s easy to judge people who’ve been incarcerated.
But if you come to know any of them well enough, you realize that often the thing that landed them in prison in the first place was difficulty adapting to and dealing with the demands of day-to-day existence in the free world. This difficulty is only magnified by being released, with “ex-con” on their resumes, into an even-more-foreign society years or decades advanced from the one they struggled to incorporate themselves into in the first place. Your judgment will not make that transition any easier.
It’s easy to judge people who are extremely religious – who, in turn, sometimes find it easy to judge those who aren’t.
But there’s a devout Mormon couple here in the neighborhood that has always been unfailingly welcoming and kind, embodying the best moral precepts without ever trying to condemn or convert us. Others of the best people I know claim no religion at all.
If you were born to little money, it’s easy to judge people who were born to lots of it.
But in middle school I became good friends with a guy whose ‘old money’ family owned a castle – no kidding, an actual castle – and he was always much nicer to me than he needed to be, never conveying any sort of aristocratic disdain for my kind. I went to a party or two at the castle, playing among suits of armor and rotating bookcase walls.
If you consider yourself an enlightened sort, the easiest thing to get judgmental about is other people being overly judgmental.
But we’ve all been there, haven’t we? Most of us are raised to be judgmental about something or other. You can try to disabuse others of their ignorance as it surfaces, but you can’t get too high and mighty about someone on an entirely different path being less far along than you. Indignation doesn’t make you better.
Eventually, once you’ve had your easiest assumptions unsettled in enough ways, a pattern starts forming. If you bother to notice it, maybe you figure out that it’s not actually your place to judge anyone for anything. Because the only day-to-day things you find yourself still capable of building stereotypes around or judging others harshly for are the things you haven’t been close enough to understand or experience for yourself yet.
What’s the work of self-development?
Finding your own blind spots. Rooting out contingencies in your own compassion.