Humans are organizers. There’s evidence that our species has been doing it for as long as we have a recorded history. We may have begun this process by keeping nuts and berries in nooks and crannies, eventually engineering totes and pots for our tools and trinkets — but over hundreds of thousands of years it has evolved into a full-fledged never-ending process of sorting, labeling, judging, and acting on these judgments about everything. We’re so adept at this process that we often do it without being aware of it. It’s as disconnected from our daily consciousness as breathing. And just as we can gain significant benefits by paying attention to our breath (even for a few moments daily), there are profound opportunities for those who develop a more deliberate awareness of their own personal practice of judging.
You know that strange sensation that can sometimes arise when we start thinking about our own breathing (strange, because we rarely pay any attention to it)? That same infrequency of attention accompanies most of the judgments we make. We judge almost non-stop, but rarely do we pay attention when it’s happened or consider it’s impact. We judge the thing occupying our attention in this moment, and promptly forget about it when another thing pushes it aside. But the judgment remains, as does the praise or condemnation that will likely accompany any future interaction with that thing. In a phrase,
Labels are hard to shake.
It would be difficult to argue that the act of judgment and categorization are purposeless or lacking any benefit to our species. Critical thinking has empowered us to better explore and subsequently make sense of ourselves and the universe around us. While the vast majority of daily judgments are woefully misinformed and lead to potentially problematic ends, judgment isn’t the problem, per se. And in the same way that it sometimes feels strange noticing our own breath, becoming mindful of the judgments we are making from moment to moment may feel awkward at first, especially if this is a new idea to you.
That’s why I like this video. It reveals, with surgical precision, the tsunami of nuance that can easily arise when we stop to examine the labels we apply — labels which we rarely have any logical reason for gratuitously applying to almost everything in our lives.
This video has been a helpful catalyst for raising crucial questions in my own day-to-day experience. Here are a few examples of those questions:
- What/who do I judge?
- What process do I employ when I judge?
- What influences (or who’s perceived authority) do I allow to persuade my judgment?
- Is this pattern of judgment something I’ve chosen, or did I simply inherit it from the culture/society around me?
- Is the thing I am judging good, or do I just choose to label it as good?
- Is this thing bad, or am I choosing to ignore/undervalue the benefit that surely exists if I simply judge it differently?
- Am I operating in “black and white” thinking, or have I made space to consider more diverse perspectives than my own?
- Does anyone get the opposite effect from this idea/place/person/thing than I do? If so, is it due more to personal subjectivity or objective reality?
Check out the video above, and see if practicing mindfulness while re-assessing the judgments you’ve made might provide value to you. Will developing a new process of mindfully judging future experiences in your life simplify and improve your daily experience?
What do you think? Can you think back on any time in your own life when you’ve re-assessed old judgments and come up with more informed or diverse perspectives? Can you identify any challenges you feel this process might pose?