For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a person to judge quickly. However I came to do it, it is now habit. And habits are hard to break. Events in my life, though, have lead me to question what I think, how I feel, and what ways I react to situations. Through this introspection, I have noticed just how quickly and intensely I can judge a person. It is quite easy to think that anyone different from me is annoying. That my way is the best and only way. Have you ever felt the same? Could it be generational? Cultural? National? Mostly personal? Whatever the cause, I’ve thought more about what it means to judge people.
What I’ve found is that we control very little in our lives. We choose next to nothing about who we are.
Most fundamentally, we don’t even choose to be born. Our parents brought us into being through no input of our own. The same parents we had no choice of. The Selfish Gene calls our bodies survival machines. Procreation is a genetically-driven endeavor meant to allow the survival of our genes. We’re a by-product of whatever genes are attempting to survive. Meaning we don’t choose or genes, we don’t choose our species. The fact my parents were human determined my species. That’s a humbling thought. Combine it with the fact that nearly all the matter on Earth was forged from lighter elements inside stars over billions of years and I am humbled further.
Next, we choose neither the time nor the place we are born. This impacts many facets of life. Our culture, nation, economy, social structure, morality, religion, and language, among others. Some of these things are left up to our parents, but, then again, they had the same issue when they were born. So it’s likely they pass on to us most of what was passed on to them.
The question of nature versus nurture is fascinating, but what I’m most interested in is how we control little of either. As shown above, we choose very little of our nature (genes, environment, etc). Nurture is similar. We can’t control how our parents raise us. For instance, parenting styles vary widely. Had I been raised in a different manner, I could have turned out a feral child and been nearly indistinguishable from a child with developmental disabilities. My parents taught me English. Language has been shown to influence the way and what we can think. Speaking Persian as a first language would have wired my brain differently. Most of our familial relations are outside of our choosing, and this impacts what we see and experience as we grow up. I had loving parents who wanted to and were able to spend a lot of time with my sisters and me. Part of that interaction has lead to my love of reading and my skills with technology. Thanks to all that has happened to me, I am who I am.
No one has chosen their skin color, height, eye color, body type, smile, crooked teeth, or whether they need glasses in order to see. It’s a rare thing for people to even choose their name. No one chose the social class they were born into, the education system (or lack thereof) they are enrolled in, or how much time their parents spent with them. We can’t even control what happens to us on a minute-by-minute basis This knowledge breeds a deep empathy for the human race, but also every living creature.
This is not to say we are completely powerless. We’ve chosen how we react since being a child. Sure, a lot of that might be genetic predisposition or learned habits, but we can choose how we react when we desire. We choose who we marry, our preferences, hobbies, hair style, and the clothes we wear. We also choose to some extent who we surround ourselves with, what our purpose in life is, and how we handle stress.
In my mind, I explain away my own behavior by blaming it on the situation, whereas if it were someone else’s behavior, I’d blame it on their personality. This is exactly the Actor-observer bias and Fundamental attribution error. I’m aware of those biases now. For example, if I encounter a waiter who seemed rude, I try to keep in mind that he could be having a terrible day. Perhaps after learning his uninsured car was totaled in an accident he was not at fault in. He could also be a generally rude person, but his attitude is likely more influenced by the situation than his personality.
I feel more compassion for my fellow humans after seeing how little control we have over who we are and where we are now. I am hard on myself, so I’m sure others are just as hard on themselves. All these things combined have made me realize that most people are out there trying to live life the best way they know how. Just as I am.
It’s not that my way is the only way. It’s just that my was has worked for me. That’s a topic for another day though.
I’m much less likely to be frustrated with others now, with this new-found empathy and compassion. The world’s hard enough. My thoughts are one of the few things I have some control over, so I’m happy to break my judgmental habits and think in a manner that results in me being happier. I’ll leave you with what I’ve boiled this all down to.
Be kind to yourself; be kinder to others.