Today I was fascinated by a facebook exchange in response to the following scenario…

‘Sometimes, people REALLY get to me, and it's hard not to be judgmental. I stopped at the store  to grab one thing. In front of me was a couple speaking rapidly in a foreign language I could not identify (wasn't English, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, or Latin.) When it came time to pay, the wife was struggling with the correct pin numbers for her EBT (foodstamp) card. The husband seemed agitated and was yelling at her. In the meantime, he opens a pack of gum, pulls out a piece, and throws both wrappers on the floor. Ugh. So, they come out. Aren't they getting into a 2010 AUDI? (Yes I checked the registration for the model year, casually, as I went by to return my cart.) Then I got into my 1997 Altima with my one item that I paid for, in cash, at $4.99. ...SIGH’

What might you have thought in this situation? What might you have posted?

This exchange elicited 29 comments in about 15 minutes! I am not kidding. This is WAY more than the average cute kid picture or photo of a vacation, a nice cocktail, or someone’s remodeling project that usually fills my fb page (I know – it’s pitiful). I know that ‘the poor’, the possibly ‘undeserving’ poor, and ‘the government’ are popular topics for debate and ranting, but that’s not what really interested me about this.

What I noticed first about my friend’s post was that it began with ‘it’s hard not to be judgmental’ and followed this with a stream of judgments: about the couple’s use of a foreign language, about the man yelling and dropping his gum wrappers, and finally about the expensive car they arrived in while also appearing to receive foodstamps. 

Yes, it’s really hard not to be judgmental. I get it. I struggle all the time with my judgments of others, myself.  But I think it’s really important to be less judgmental, for reasons I will explain. 

Blip, blip, blip on my facebook – a stream of negative judgments about that couple: they were welfare cheats robbing us ‘good, tax-paying people’ of our tax dollars, maybe they were grifters, or a pimp and prostitute, or at least ‘irritating’.  (I’m not making this up).  WHAT??  In 1 second, this couple was completely condemned – ‘tarred and feathered’, ‘up the creek without a paddle’ and ‘lambasted’.  Wow.  I was shocked and intrigued by the spectacle. It was an invitation to judge. A judge-o-rama.  They also made judgy comments about each other’s posts. To be fair, there were about 3 non-judging comments suggesting that since we don’t know anything about them, it’s pointless to speculate.

So that was one thing – how quickly this foodstamp-using, gum chewing, littering
(if he dropped the wrappers on purpose) couple was convicted based on literally no information about their financial situation except that they used a foodstamps card and apparently got to the store in a fancy car.  And I wondered ‘why all the judgments, really?’  But I don’t know yet.    

The other thing that caught my interest was that all the judging comments were ANGRY.  This fits with my experience of judging others:  judging others makes me feel angry toward the person I’m judging. Or superior, or defensive but you boil all those down and there is anger in them.  I’m not really sure why it makes me feel angry but it does. 

I notice that when I judge someone else for doing whatever they do, or being whatever they are, I feel angry at them and a lot of drama gets stirred up in my body and soul. It happened as I watched the facebook exchange.  They weren’t even my words but I could FEEL THE DRAMA being whipped up by all the speculation, accusations, and defenses. It was like the judging, negative words had energy and I could feel it.  Like that shaky feeling you get when a cop pulls you over.  It didn’t feel good. 

In contrast, the posts that said ‘we don’t know anything about them so this is pointless’ felt very calm.  The judging words felt very red and big and jangling. The non-judging words felt very blue and still and silent. Not like they were trying to pick a fight with you.  Now, I’m not afraid of being angry. I get angry. I will open up a can of whup-ass when necessary, but in a case where I know nothing about the person or the situation, why would I do that? 

And I guess that’s my message: Judging others makes me feel bad.  In my mind, body, and soul. It puts up walls between me and the person I’m judging who is usually someone in my life I really care about and maybe say I ‘love’.  Not only does it hurt me but it hurts our relationship because as long as I am judging them I can’t deal with them.  And they can tell. We can’t relate in a relaxed, regular way and it takes a while for me to decide to stop the judgment or for it to slip away. While I’m waiting for that to happen, the relationship is on hold and I am feeling bad. 

I feel a lot better and enjoy the people I love more when I can say ‘I really don’t know anything about this so judging it is pointless’.

Stacy Silver,
Penn State Professor

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