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Lately, I’ve had a considerable experience of being at the receiving end of people judging me and my life. It’s not because of my life, but rather because I’ve been in India for the last two and a half months. This habit of judgement is not uncommon in India. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why I don’t feel particular kinship with Indian society at large.
Everyone judges you from whatever basic facts they know about. Relatives, however distant, in particular seem to take it for granted as their right. A caveat here: there are many progressive, open-minded people in India (even amongst my many relatives), but the society in general is very judgemental, particularly towards women, especially about things and values that are different than what is the norm.
As I am in thought and deed mostly Western, the Indian norm is obviously not my norm. Being here, under this unwanted and often unfair scrutiny has made me think about how I judge people. Because of course I do judge people. We all do. Some of us simply take longer than others, and perhaps put in a bit more effort learning about someone before we make up our minds.
To judge someone based on their factual data alone (i.e. age, sex, job, nationality, marital status) is to judge a book by its cover. Yet that is what happens frequently. Everyone account who is married with two children is not the same person. Every married couple is not happy, and every single mother is not miserable. Judging people based on stereotypes may be a matter of casual conversation when you are bored, but when you are doing that to someone directly, it impacts their psyche. Those who are emotionally strong and more self-aware can perhaps handle it well, but those who are more emotionally vulnerable could be affected severely.
I wouldn’t achieve much by arguing with these prejudiced judges. They are who they choose to be. I wouldn’t waste my time defending myself, my actions, or my life to these people, because they simply don’t deserve that kind of attention or respect. Instead, I choose to focus my energy on improving my own character, in ensuring that I don’t do to others what these people do to me. That when I judge again in the future, I am careful of not doing so too hastily. That I move past the stereotypes and focus on the individual. That I learn about them first, listen to what they have to say, and only then give my mind permission to form an opinion of them. But even more importantly, even if my opinion is not favourable, I refrain from handing out lectures or advice, because it’s all too easy to give advice and far harder to act upon it.
I would do so much better for myself, and for others, by focusing on improving my own character and my own life, and to lead by example rather than lectures. To paraphrase Gandhi, by being the change I wish to see in others.
Do you judge too swiftly, or have the experience of being judged? How does it feel? How would you make a positive change in judging others?