One of the most popular TV sit-coms in the 1970s was "All in the Family" and it featured Archie Bunker, an opinionated New Yorker, who shared his perspective in a straightforward and often hilarious way. Regardless of whether you agreed with his viewpoints, there was something comical about the way he shared them — and his unswerving commitment to his judgements often highlighted their absurdity.
No doubt Archie Bunker appealed to so many people because his judgmental stances were so blatant and so human. The truth is, we all make judgements all the time. It is just part of being human. Even when we try to be "nonjudgmental" we wind up judging our own judgement! The trouble is not that we make judgements. The trouble comes when we adopt a judgmental stance - investing emotionally in our judgements and holding them as TRUTH.
Judgemental stances can be a source of suffering, taking us away from the present moment and separating us from others. Non-judgement, a core attitude of mindfulness, is a quality that can be cultivated to enhance our ability to be fully awake and connected. Here are several exercises that can help you cultivate a non-judgemental attitude.
- Play Catch and Release - Find a time when you are doing a mundane task such as cleaning or washing dishes. As you work, imagine your thoughts and feelings floating through your mind like leaves in a river. Begin to observe your thoughts and feelings as if they were objects - things that you have, rather than YOU. As you catch each thought or feeling with your attention, gently release it and let it float on by. If you notice yourself judging your experience, let that go too. The more you practice this exercise, the more quickly you will learn to recognize your judgements and release them.
- Focus on the Facts - Judgements are usually emotionally charged and contain opinion words like "good" or "bad","right" or "wrong" and "should" or "shouldn't". When you notice yourself using judgmental language (internally or externally), practice focusing on the "what" of the situation. What actually happened? For example: "That car pulled in front of me in traffic" conveys something very different than "That driver is such a jerk!". Practice reframing your statements (internal or external) into factual statements rather than opinion statements.
- Identify your Preferences - Judgements can be helpful when they help point out a preference, standard or value that we hold. As you practice noticing your judgements, try engaging your curiosity to learn more about what is important to you. Keep a log or a journal about judgmental thoughts that you have during the day. You might set it up with three columns. In one column, write the judgement. In the second column, write the facts of the situation. In another column, write the preference or value you have that is expressed in that thought. Using the example above, it might look like this: 1) Judgement - That driver is such a jerk! 2) Fact - That car pulled in front of me in traffic. 3) Preference and Values - I value safety and fairness. I prefer that people be polite and wait their turn. I feel anxious and angry when others force their way.
The Greek philosopher, Epictetus once said: "Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinions of the things that happen.". As we learn to cultivate non-judgement, we create greater freedom over our reactions and greater ability to be fully present in our lives.
Archie Bunker could have learned a thing or two from Epictetus! Here is a fun scene of him sharing one of his distinctive opinions:
What about you? How have you cultivated non-judgement and what difference has it made? Please share your experiences in the comments below!