You’re sitting down for dinner with a group of friends. Everyone goes around and orders their meal. When it comes to you, you make your order. And off to the side, one of your friends pipes up with a derogatory, condescending comment:
“Ugh, do you know what’s IN that???”
Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of attitude before. Maybe you’ve been on the giving end. And while it might be a well-meaning attempt to shock the listener into understanding what they’re putting in their bodies, this isn’t usually the way it works.
In fact, holding a judgmental attitude more often pushes people to do the exact opposite of what you want them to do!
My name is Brad Edwards. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know I’m not a vegan. So what am I doing writing for a vegan fashion blog? It’s partially because I’m still very interested in health and wellness (and partially because Truth’s vegan fashion is cool! I’m wearing my Gemini belt as I type this, and it’s one of my favourite belts).
And a number of times, I’ve found it difficult to talk about health with the people I care about. I work with several health professionals in the capacity of a professional writer and editor, so I’ve accumulated a good amount of knowledge about health, and how to take care of yourself.
Of course, my friends and family aren’t as lucky. And I often see those people I care about eating things and doing things which I know are very bad for them. From too much sugar to processed foods, GMO fruits and vegetables to hormone-induced meat, I see it every day.
I could lapse into a judgmental attitude, but that won’t help anyone. I’ve tried it in the past, and it’s pointless. And it’s not that I’ve been doing it wrong either. As an Italian and a former Catholic, I’m pretty damn good at being judgmental. But I’d rather take a more constructive approach.
Judging People Makes Us Unhappy
When you judge someone for something that’s outside of your control, you’re simply expressing your dissatisfaction with the way they’re living their life and your desire for them to change. And of course, no one on the planet is at the mercy of your every whim, so you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
This goes from judging strangers you see on the street (dude, socks with sandals, really?) to casual acquaintances (god, he’s been talking for like 20 minutes now, why won’t he shut up!) to close friends and family (there she goes about that whole vegan thing, doesn’t she get that we don’t care?). Judging people sets you up for disappointment.
We judge everyone compared to ourselves. This is why we connect with people who have similar interests and values to us. Vegans hang with vegans, programmers hang with programmers, philosophers hang with philosophers, musicians hang with musicians, and so on. Because the only life we’ve experienced directly (at least consciously) is our own, we have no other benchmark other than ourselves. So someone similar to me is bound to get along with me.
But there will always be something about that person that bothers me. Maybe it’s the way they sit. Maybe it’s the way they talk with their mouth full, or pick their nose, or bite their nails. And maybe it’s their diet. But if you spend too much of my mental energy focusing on these things, you’ll end up sapping the energy you could be using for more positive activities.
Judging Someone Makes Them Less Likely To Listen To You
If I came to you off the street and threw a punch at you, what would you do?
You’d likely defend yourself, blocking the punch if you were able, and either fighting back, running away, or calling for help.
When we’re attacked, our first instinct is to defend ourselves. And a verbal attack is no different.
Making harsh judgments on people is like attacking them verbally. And when people have a verbal attack at their gates, they’re more likely to dig in and defend themselves than they are to open the gates and allow what you’re saying to take hold. Even if you’re right.
In fact, they may even continue their self-destructive habit out of pure spite. And that’s not at all what you’re trying to achieve.
So How Do I Talk To Them?
There are a few important tips to keep in mind when trying to communicate judgments on their lifestyle without being judgmental.
Leo Babauta wrote an article about this at his website, zenhabits.net. He describes his “DUAL” method, as follows:
Don’t pass judgment. If you find yourself being judgmental, stop yourself. This takes a greater awareness than we usually have, so the first step (and an important one) is to observe your thoughts for a few days, trying to notice when you’re being judgmental. This can be a difficult step. Remind yourself to observe.
Once you’re more aware, you can then stop yourself when you feel yourself being judgmental. Then move to the next step.
Understand. Instead of judging someone for what he’s done or how he looks, try instead to understand the person. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to imagine their background. If possible, talk to them. Find out their backstory. Everyone has one. If not, try to imagine the circumstances that might have led to the person acting or looking like they do.
Accept. Once you begin to understand, or at least think you kind of understand, try to accept. Accept that person for who he is, without trying to change him. Accept that he will act the way he does, without wanting him to change. The world is what it is, and as much as you try, you can only change a little bit of it. It will continue to be as it is long after you’re gone. Accept that, because otherwise, you’re in for a world of frustration.
Love. Once you’ve accepted someone for who he is, try to love him. Even if you don’t know him. Even if you’ve hated him in the past. Love him as a brother, or love her as a sister, no matter who they are, old or young, light skinned or dark, male or female, rich or poor.
What good will loving someone do? Your love will likely only be limited. But it could have an affect on two people: yourself, and possibly on the person you’ve found love for. Loving others will serve to make yourself happier. Trust me on this one. And loving others can change the lives of others, if you choose to express that love and take action on it. I can’t guarantee what will happen, but it can be life-changing.
Health and lifestyle can be a touchy subject for many people. But if you can approach it with compassion and love, rather than judgment and condescension, you’ll have a much easier time getting people to understand your position.