We look. We judge.
Most of the time, this is usually what happens: we observe another person’s behavior(s) over a period of time, or at times instantaneously, and make judgements about their character and their personality. It seems like the normal thing to do. Why not? Like momma, granddad, every talk show on TV, and probably even the Pope has said, “actions speak louder than words.” If this statement is true, then why should we not use someone’s actions to judge them? Fact: Reading someone’s behaviors can inform us of when to run, stay, love, engage, isolate, trust, disbelieve, fight, and break away. So when “actions” don’t line up with “words,” we immediately know that something is off, not right, or troublesome.
Actions tell the truth where sometimes words tell a tale, and in most situations, action-based judgements yield an accurate picture of the truth. However, no matter how much we observe and judge someone, we should not make the mistake of assuming we have figured them out. To figure them out would require us to understand all their experiences, how they interpreted those experiences, and how their perception of the world has been molded by those experiences. We may know a person’s behavior, but it takes much more to know their heart, their struggle, their pain. In their eyes may lie images of violence, loss, pain, hurt, trauma, deception, or even joy, happiness, love, and success. Where you see hope, they may see loss; where you see happiness, they may see hopelessness; where they see negativity, you may see positive possibilities. You probably just don’t know what they “see” and it’s probably none of your business.
I can continue saying “you” and “they,” but the truth is we have all been there. At one time or another, we have all had the feeling that someone “doesn’t understand” or that “they just have no idea” how we feel or what we are dealing with behind a smile, a frown, a laugh, or even silence. Truth is we may never completely understand why someone behaves the way they do, nor will we always understand what others really think and feel. There is always more to the story — more layers, more levels, more left lingering. People are intriguing and when I think about other people, I always wonder what’s in their eyes. What past images and experiences have contributed to their view of the world? What do they see in themselves when they look in the mirror? What have they experienced throughout their life that has brought them joy, but also disappointment? What did they have to overcome? And then I wonder, how alike and similar are we to those we judge and condemn? Or in some cases, how much worse are we than those we judge?
Should we judge? Yes. Sometimes judgements keep us out of trouble, away from danger, and free from the wrong people and poor decisions. I am not disregarding the kind of necessary judgement we need to discern when to escape dangerous, harmful, hurtful people and situations. In this case I am talking about the voluntary judgements we make about other people because we are really unhappy, bored, jealous, or insecure with ourselves. The next question is, why do we feel compelled to unnecessarily judge other people? What is it about our society that makes us more willing to point the finger than to see someone else succeed? Why will miserable people do everything in their power to sabotage everyone’s happiness? In the world of social media, why do people feel like they can sit behind a computer and completely degrade and torture people with their negativity? Why do we put celebrities on a pedestal just to pick them apart piece by piece as if their status or salary no longer makes them human? Who gave us the power to be the judge and jury when it comes to other people’s lives?
I have no answers, only empathy for those that we unnecessarily judge and powerlessly condemn. I don’t know when the human judging instinct turned into an emotional cannibalism. What I do know is this– even if we talk to a person regularly and observe his/her behavior on many different occasion, we might still never be able to see what’s in their eyes.