I am sure you have heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” We know it’s a metaphor for not making prejudgments about others or situations, until we have more information (i.e., read the book first). However, it takes being mindful to control our tendency to pass judgement. In fact, our brains are wired to discriminate and make judgement as a survival mechanism. For example, a child may avoid eating vegetables because its green. You may avoid engaging with a person because he looks “scary.” The veggie might be delicious. The person you encountered might be the most gentle, loving person you could ever meet. But, until you know for certain, you might pass judgement.
Unfortunately, we have all been prejudged or prejudged another person. I once went on a job interview. On the phone they were so excited and were looking forward to meeting me. I had two conversations and they even shared they were having a hard time filling the role. When I came in person for the interview, dressed in my suit, very professionally, I was told the job was no longer available, even before the interview started. Could it be they saw my completion and made judgements? Possibly. But, no one is exempt. I can recall being setup on a blind date when I was in my late teens. When I saw the young man, I felt he was not might type. I didn’t know him, but I judged him before we went out. I told him I was sick and couldn’t go out. I ghosted him and refused to get to know him. What I did really wasn’t any better than what the prospective employer did to me. The point is that we all prejudge.
We know that prejudgments can be harmful. People have lost job opportunities, have been rejected or neglected by others, or even died all because of prejudgment. And, often the reasoning is “I didn’t know,” “She didn’t look the part,” or “I felt threatened” based on what a person or situation looked like. There are times when you need to rely on your prejudgments. Again, it keeps you safe. But sometimes prejudgment is not needed. There are times we prejudge because we feel we don’t have time to get to know what is real or confirm how to respond. However, the goal of this mental shortcut (prejudgment) is to help you when you have low cognitive or minimal physical resources. When you are mentally and physically optimal, you have time to think and use reason. Here are some key ways to help you stop, and think, when you are triggered by a prejudgment:
Assess if you are in immediate danger and what is real. Do you have reason to believe you are in a threatening situation? If you are not, then there is no need to prejudge. Are your thoughts imagined or real? Even imaginary threats feel as if you are in danger. Again, assess the situation (if you are not in immediate danger) to confirm if your prejudgment is accurate.
Be open and get more information. If your first thought is to judge a situation or person negatively based solely on appearance, investigate further to confirm your suspicion.
If you don’t like the experience AFTER investigating, then you don’t have to experience or engage again. This happens a lot with trying new foods, or even going on a date with a new person. if you don’t like the outcome, you don’t have to eat the food, or go on another date. Try something at least one, and if you don’t like it, its fine.
Reflect on what the real issue is or what is triggering the judgement. Sometimes we cloud new experiences by old ones. For instance, if you experienced a bad relationship, you may be apprehensive about dating again. If you ate a food that tasted horrible or made you ill, you might be reluctant to try new foods. You hired a coach, but it didn’t work out. So, you might not want to hire another coach. Know what is triggering your judgement then assess if the trigger is realistic or applies to the current situation. Most of the time, it does not.
If you make an erroneous judgement, acknowledge it and apologize. Forgive yourself, and then ask the person you passed judgement on to forgive you, if possible.
The role of prejudgments is to help you guard against unpleasant experiences or danger. But, the remedy to keep your prejudgments in check is mindfulness. Being aware of your thoughts, the moment, and what you want to experience will help you make the best decision and learn how to enjoy life as it is, verses avoiding people and experiences based on how it “looks” or comparing opportunities with the past. Consider giving people, situations, and experiences the opportunity to show you what or who they are, before deciding not to engage.