A lady bald eagle chooses her mate (image courtesy of Wikipedia).

A lady bald eagle chooses her mate (image courtesy of Wikipedia).

My own tendency to judge (both others and myself) has long mystified me.

On the one hand – yuck. A life spent judging self and others isn’t much of a life at all.

Yet at times, judging others has also felt like it might serve some evolutionary purpose, perhaps even with my safety foremost in mind.

By this I mean – let’s say I am a lady bald eagle.

I tend to mate for life, which means I should choose my mate with great care.

Here, I want to choose a male who is coordinated (otherwise, we both might die during our unique courtship “spiral air dance”).

I also want a mate who is affectionate and persistent (no one respects a suitor who gives up too quickly).

Best of all, I want a mate who is a good hunter, since raising (and feeding!) hungry chicks is hard work.

So in the part of my brain that is wired to choose, as soon as mating season comes around, I am fully engaged in constantly judging, judging, judging.

The same may hold true for us human animals even in our top-of-the-food-chain, big-brained and oh-so-evolved state.

Perhaps we still judge with an eye towards survival.

Certainly we have evolved to judge so we can not just survive but thrive by selecting only the best – the best suitor, the best nesting site, the best victuals, the best of everything.

So then what if that part of our brain just keeps on judging…whether we actually need it to or not?

What if that ancient core of our brain is totally unaware that human life today is not nearly so dire – that it is not quite so absolutely necessary to notice and point out every little (real or perceived) flaw, foible, or fault in those around us?

What if we can’t even really be blamed for judging others – after all, it is in our DNA?

This may be true.

But what is also true is that, blameless or not, judging others makes me personally feel guilty and miserable.

It is not just a waste of my time and mental energy, but it also can be more harmful than helpful….and certainly it never feels neutral.

Recently I was reading a Q&A column on yoga and spirituality. A reader wrote in to ask how he could stop judging the people he loved the most.

The answer given was twofold and simple:

  1. Love without desire or selfishness.
  2. Forget about the good done to the person you are judging.

The writer pointed out that love – true love – unconditional love – loves just for the sake of love. There is no selfish agenda attached (i.e. no concern about whether a potential suitor, once loved, will then produce the requisite healthy, attractive eagle chicks). So loving without judgment becomes much easier when you don’t want/need anything in return.

Also, remembrance of good deeds done – say, that time you gave your beloved eagle mate that last bite of river-fresh salmon (rather than keeping it for yourself the way you wanted to do) – can quickly breed desire, greed, selfishness, and the tendency to “keep score.”

This of course is not love but business. “You should give me the last bite of yours because I gave you the last bite of mine” rarely leads to anywhere good when it comes to matters of the heart.

So – love without condition and forget past good deeds done. Check. And check.

Over the past week, I have been practicing both of these techniques and I am happy to report some progress!

For instance, I have noticed that when I forget about the good things I have done for someone I am judging, the judgment evaporates.

Also, when I focus on the reasons why I love that person – and ONLY the reasons why I love them – the judgment quietly slips away.

So whether judging others is learned or hard-wired into our brains, it would appear we still retain the power to do something about how much time, effort, and energy our mind may spend judging others.

As a side benefit, I’ve personally also noticed that as I judge others less frequently, my self-judgment eases up as well.

Today’s Takeaway: Where do you find yourself judging others and/or yourself in a way that causes you discomfort or pain? How do you think your life might change if you were able to live it without judgment? What have you found that works to keep those judgments at bay?