The Link Between Judging and Compassion

“Through compassion you find that all human beings are just like you.” ~ The Dalai Lama

When I was taking my yoga teacher training in 2014, one of our assignments was to practice being non-judgmental for a month and write an essay about our experience. What I learned was that being non-judgmental starts with compassion, for ourselves and others.

It’s easy to go through our days in judgment mode, especially in these days of social media. We “like” a Facebook or Instagram post, give a place we’ve visited a thumbs up or down review and refer professionals to our friends. We rate, judge and categorize ourselves and others all the time.

To a certain degree, this is normal and necessary. We have to be able to discern what is harmful or beneficial to us, what is a safe situation and what might endanger us. Eons ago, these judgments were necessary for survival. Today, our judgments are less survival-based and more social-based. And basing our judgments on faulty reasoning or in reaction to past experience is what hurts us and others.

Being judgmental has less to do with who (or what) we’re judging and more to do with how we’re feeling at the time, often how we’re feeling about our very selves, not just the circumstances we’re in.

Judgment starts with feeling separated from our true nature. It’s based on our experiences, perceptions and made up of our thoughts and opinions. If we don’t have a strong sense of ourselves, it’s easy to project our feelings of lack, fear, envy, etc., on to others.

That makes it harder to connect with others and see that they share the same struggles we have. When we recognize that we all share the same needs and can identify with others on a basic level, compassion and empathy sets in.

“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” ~ Sutra 1.33

In Sutra 1.33, Putanjali says there are only four locks in the world: sukha (happy people), dukha (unhappy people), punya (the virtuous), and apunya (the wicked). At any given moment, you can fit any person into one of these four categories.

Unhappy people are very critical. Better to blame others or outward events than to see that we create our own unhappiness or that we have the power to create happiness as well.

Unless and until we can turn off those old tapes that run inside our heads with messages we grew up hearing (vocalized or implied) – messages that create feelings of shame, guilt, lack and abandonment – we won’t able to love ourselves and we definitely won’t have compassion for others.

Why would we? When we’re unhappy with ourselves, it’s easy to transfer our feelings of fear, anxiety, shame and unhappiness onto others as judgment.

Practice non-judging

There was a period in my marriage when I felt a lot of anger toward my husband. When I began to meditate on a regular basis, I noticed my anger lessened. We know the benefits of meditation: feeling more peaceful; more accepting of self and others; feeling more positive about the present and future.

As my anger toward him began to fade, it was replaced with compassion. I became more accepting of his – and my – “failings” as I began to see that he was human, just like me, trying to get through this life the best we could.  

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher. ”

~ Pema Chodron

Awareness is the key to breaking the habit of judging. Practicing yoga and meditation can help as well by slowing us down, forcing us to take a step back and observe our thoughts, emotions and reactions.

When we recognize we’ve made a judgment, we can start asking ourselves questions: Do I know the full story behind this person or event? If not, what triggered my feelings or what caused my reaction?

Questioning ourselves and our internal messages and tapes isn’t easy and not everyone is willing to try. But doing so can lead us to make the conscious decision to do things differently. And that’s the first step toward making changes.

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