Judging favorably

“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” ~Lama Yeshe

I’ve been fascinated lately by the power of the stories we tell and the degree to which these stories dictate our experience of life. The last couple of days I’ve already explored the effect of the stories I tell myself about my own life and the stories I tell about others out loud. Today I’m taking a look at judgment of others, which is the stories I tell about other people in my own mind.

My focus on this came from another chapter in Lois Tverberg’s Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life. This chapter is titled “Taking My Thumb Off the Scale,” and it’s all about the Jewish idea of judging favorably. In other words, it’s about the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt when we consider the motives behind their actions.

The following quote (from p. 107) really captures the idea that caught my attention:

In almost every situation, a person can either look for a good or a bad motive behind other people’s behavior. The way you choose to interpret others’ motives has a profound effect on the way you react to them. Personally, I’ve found that when I make a habit of trying to “judge favorably,” it transforms me into a kinder, more patient person. My attitude grows more loving when I assume the best instead of the worst about the people around me.

Once again, it brings me back to the recognition that my stories affect me more profoundly than they do anyone else. My judgmental stories affect the way I act toward others, but they also affect how I feel about myself, how I view world around me, and how I interpret others’ reactions to me.

When I am spending my time and energy assigning negative motives to others’ behavior, I will naturally assume that others are doing the same to me, and it fuels my preoccupation with what other people think of me and how they react to me. I wind up acting towards others in ways that will leave me feeling ashamed (even if only subconsciously) of my reactions to them so that I am uncomfortable with myself. It makes it much more likely that I will engage in lashon hara (the kind of evil speech I wrote about yesterday). I will experience the world as more dangerous and negative because I am telling so many stories of negative motives of those around me.

When I spend my time and energy assigning positive motives to others’ behavior (even if that means assuming that they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with), I experience the world as a better and safer place. I view people around me with compassion, even when they do things I don’t like. I treat people better, which leaves me feeling better about myself. I worry less about what other people are thinking of me because I am not so preoccupied with judgment. I am all around a nicer person when I’m in that space.

So even aside from the positive impact it has on other people for me to be less judgmental, it is very much to my own benefit to reduce my levels of judgment. Why then do I gravitate so quickly back to judgment if I know it does not serve me? Really … why would I do something that I know makes me miserable?

I think that perhaps Lama Yeshe is pointing in the right direction with his opening quote. I can only treat others the way I treat myself because my world is a mirror of who I am. Therefore, if I am being judgmental of myself, I will likewise be judgmental of others. On the other hand, when I learn to be gentle with myself, I will also be gentle with others.

The reason I gravitate back toward judging others time and again is because I have never dealt with my self-judgment. I will never be able to consistently treat others better than the way that I treat myself. I will never be able to create better stories about others than the ones that I create about myself.

I only have one lens through which I see the world, and that lens is formed by my view of myself. If I see myself as being a bad person, that bad story will be reflected back to me by everyone else I meet because they are my mirror. If I see myself as a good but imperfect person who is doing her best, that good story will be reflected back to me by everyone around me.

It’s up to me which story I want to tell, but whatever story I choose gets applied to everyone. That choice of story starts at home with the story I tell about myself, and I need to fix that first so that I can start telling better stories about everyone else. It’s time for me to deal with that self-judgment and start telling some better stories—stories that will better serve me and therefore better serve those around me.

Will you join me? Are there stories you tell about yourself that you can change to create the space to tell better stories about others?

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