What steps should we take to free ourselves from judgements? Not to judge people?– Farrah
This question is timely. You have asked this at a point in my life where I have been examining myself and my flaws through this blog and my writing. One of my main shortcomings is how much I enjoy gossip. I started this blog to provide a space for people to ask questions and ask for help without judgement. The internet is a harsh place and people are quick to judge (and worse). So I have been reflecting on my own thought processes and trying to cleanse myself of bad habits so that I can write as honestly and kindly as I can.
how I became so judgemental
When I was in school in 5th grade I remember walking in the corridors to the cafeteria for lunch. We had just finished music and I was walking with one of my classmates, we were surrounded by other kids rushing to lunch. It was loud and noisy. My classmate and I were talking about the class and she said, “Miss Claire is so annoying isn’t she? I really don’t like her”. I loved and respected all my teachers and would never say a bad word about them, I looked up to them.
But in that moment I wanted to be liked by my classmate, I wanted to fit in. I was new to the school. So I said, “yeah you’re right I really don’t like her”. As I said that, I turned around and Miss Claire was right behind me. I can still see her face as if it was just yesterday – she looked down at me with a stern expression on her face. I still regret it to this day. She passed away a year or so later of malaria while on holiday. I don’t really know if she heard me that day, but if she did I hope she forgives me. I’m sorry, Miss.
As I got older and started to understand and follow Islam better, I became very strict with myself. I took my Islamic lessons seriously and I tried to follow the rules as best as I could. I tried to be honest, kind, treat my parents well and not gossip or backbite.
I took it so seriously, I was strict in my thoughts too. As soon as a negative thought crossed my mind, I would put it away and admonish myself for thinking it. I would never swear at anyone and didn’t even in my head. It was very important for me to keep my thoughts and my heart clean. I knew backbiting was wrong and I tried my best not to participate in it. I wanted to be good in both my thoughts and actions.
I was at an all-girls’ school during these years and I was bullied by my group of friends in the 8th grade. It was a very small school, there were maybe 10-15 girls in my class. That year was one of the saddest of my life. This was around the time when my depression started. I had anxiety before that, I remember, but I don’t remember feeling as sad and lonely as when that happened. I still remember the way I felt and the things they did to me. It was hard because they were my friends. I couldn’t understand what happened. I fell into a deep depression and I started self-harming.
My parents were worried and saw what was happening to me and they moved me to a new school after the year ended. Even though they had hurt me so much, I bought each of those girls a “goodbye” gift. I wanted to follow the Prophet’s (SAW) example and show kindness and generosity even to those who showed me none. I always kept the “spirit” of Islam in the back of my mind and let it guide my actions.
Then I started high school at the new school. This was a much bigger school and was mixed. It was the first time I interacted with boys outside of my family. I was a bit shy, awkward and nervous. I was now in a minority: the girls’ school was all Arab and the new school was a mix of different nationalities. It was extremely different but, to my surprise, I made friends pretty quickly. I had a little group of friends and I started feeling my confidence coming back.
Teenagers can be cruel. I don’t know what it is, but we all wanted to be cool. I wanted to be cool. I knew I would never be because I was too much of a nerd. Part of being cool seemed to be making fun of people, especially the teachers. It was fun for me to join in the gossip and the jokes. I bonded with one of my best friends through gossiping! We still gossip today whenever we talk.
We had this teacher, he was a really tall big English guy. We used to call him “Hagrid” behind his back. I knew in my heart it was mean, he was a nice guy. We did like him! But it was just fun. Everyone did it and it was normal. I did feel bad, but I got used to it.
Gossiping has its place. This Psychology Today article describes how gossip and judging others is part of our society. Those who don’t gossip are considered unfriendly or untrustworthy. Think about it, if you’re in a group talking about others and someone leaves or refuses to join in you’ll feel guilty. You’ll also feel like they think they’re better than you. This quote actually explains how gossip helps up cope:
We all have a deep-seated need to feel established and secure. One way to solidify status is to compare ourselves with those who are worse off. Since few acquaintances willingly share details in polite conversation about their troubled marriages, bad investments and underperforming kids, we obtain this information through gossip. News of others’ travails actually helps us cope with our own difficult situations. Breast cancer patients improve physically when they hear about cancer patients who are more ill than they are. “People say to themselves, ‘Wow, it’s not as bad as it can get! That’s great news!’ and it really makes them feel better,” says psychologist Sara Wert of Yale University. Through gossip, we learn where we stand in the bigger picture, often with at least a glimmer of schadenfreude. Shake your head in disapproval all you want: Downward social comparison is a healthy part of a well-functioning ego.Jennifer Drapkin, Psychology today
judge not lest ye be judged
Of course, judging people is not a good habit and it can make us feel guilty. We should try to give people the benefit of the doubt. If you judge people excessively, I feel like it says something about your insecurities. If you are happy and satisfied, you shouldn’t need to feel better by looking down on others right?
So, how can we learn to stop this behaviour? When I start to judge people and negative emotions crop up I just pause for a second. This has helped me with a lot of my emotions and my reactive nature. I try to step back and look at myself from the outside. Why am I thinking this? Is this a useful thought? Is it fair? Sometimes I think my judgements are fair, but even if they are I remember to be kind. I think about how people judge me and how it feels to be judged.
Also, think about how the person you are judging would feel if they heard your judgements. How would you feel? I think most of the time you would feel embarrassed and regret it. You should also be wary of who you share your thoughts with, you never know who will talk about you and spread what you said.
I reach out to the kindness and generosity I know I have inside me. In recent years, my heart has become cold and closed. I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt anymore. I am trying to change that and soften myself and remember that I can be kind, I can be generous to other people. I recognise that my negative reactions come from a place of pain. I want to soothe my own insecurities. I want to make myself feel better. I look inward and think about my own behaviour: have I done something like this? Could I say I would never do something like this?
I try to remind myself that everyone is fighting a battle, just like I am. I try to remember that others are like me, they have their good qualities and bad qualities. People have different struggles in life. They also have friends, loved ones, families, loneliness.
The key here is to practice a little kindness. Picture someone else saying the same things about you. Remember that the person you are judging has their own problems, maybe they have reasons for the way they are acting? In line with my last post about superstitions, I worry that when I judge people the same thing could happen to me too. For example, I’m worried if I judge someone for breaking their leg doing something stupid, the same thing will happen to me.
Farrah, in summary, I think there are a few things we can do to reduce our judgements of others. First of all, remember to pause and look at yourself from the outside. This is a technique I use every time I start feeling very strong emotions (it does practice to learn). Think about why you are thinking these thoughts and how it would feel to be judged in that way. Also, how would you feel if the person you are judging overheard you? Would it embarrass you and make you feel bad?
Secondly, try to tap into your kindness and generosity. Try to give people the benefit of the doubt (even though they may not deserve it). But also be kind to yourself, we are humans and judging others is a very human habit.