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Don’t Be So Quick To Judge

By: Brian Kim - May 14, 2007

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Here’s the bottom line.

You just don’t know.

You just don’t know what’s going on in another person’s life.

You just don’t know the entire situation and the circumstances that are involved.

You just don’t know what’s going on in another person’s head.

As humans, when we meet one another, we instinctively gather as much information as we can from our interaction and based on that information, which is akin the size of a small puzzle piece, we try to construct the entire jigsaw puzzle of that person using only that small puzzle piece. You can’t. You just can’t do that.

For example, you meet someone for the first time and he seems a bit rude, a bit standoffish, not very graceful in terms of social manners, and appears a bit angry. We take that information and paint that person as just that in everyday life, when in reality, he could’ve just been having a bad day. A deal might’ve not gone through at work, maybe he didn’t get the raise he wanted, or maybe he just had a bad fight with his wife.

You don’t know.

You just don’t know.

Yet, we do have a natural tendency to try to make sense of things of the information we have and like that example pointed out, the problem is that the information we have is too small. It’s not enough. It’s like a grain of sand compared to a beach.

Obviously, the more time you spend with another person, the more pieces you can gather to construct a better overall picture, but this article is mainly geared toward those who we're not that close to yet, acquaintances, new friends, co-workers, etc.

I knew one person who many people judged to be as very “arrogant”. He rarely talked in social situations and tended to keep quiet in group conversations and stayed away from people in general. Many people thought he was too “cool” to talk with them, that he thought he was above or better than them in some way. I was curious about him so I befriended him and we had a candid talk and I was surprised at what I found. He was not the least bit arrogant at all. On the contrary, he was quite humble.

And as we talked, I realized what this was all about. He was a classic introvert. He enjoyed spending time alone. He didn’t really particularly care for small talk. He liked conversation, but only when it involved deep, stimulating talk. He felt drained at parties and with talking with people so he needed to recharge by being alone with his thoughts. He had absolutely no clue that other people perceived him to be arrogant. He was just doing what was comfortable for him.

Going a bit off tangent here, I think there’s a big misconception when the word introvert is used in mainstream society. An introvert is usually correlated with someone who is extremely shy, has low self confidence, low self esteem, or maybe even someone who is antisocial but that is simply not true at all.

Introverts mainly draw energy by being by themselves. They feel at peace when they are alone. Extroverts mainly draw energy from being around other people and feel in their element, so to speak, with others.

It’s just a different preference of orientation when it comes to getting energy, one comes from within, the other without.

An introvert can give a great, inspiring, riveting speech to tens of thousands of people, but when talking with a small group of people, he can feel drained and want to drift away in his own thoughts.

Again, it’s mainly a preference, nothing more.

There is a difference between a true introvert and a person who is shy and wants to socialize. The introvert feels comfortable in his own skin and doesn’t have the desire to socialize as much as the next person, while the shy person who wants to socialize may suffer from social anxiety, low self esteem, low self confidence, etc.

Going back to that introverted person, it’s easy to see how people can judge him by his behavior and label him as arrogant.

Now, it may seem like little harm is done when one person mistakenly judges him as arrogant, but the real trouble starts when that one person starts to “paint” him as arrogant to others, so when other people meet him for the first time, his behavior is automatically filtered to justify this “painting of arrogance” that they were led to believe and lo and behold, the “painting” becomes justified.

Within very close social circles, people’s reputation can become greatly harmed through this type of quick judgment coupled with gossip.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve heard the admonition of don’t be quick to judge as well, but only in my head. It wasn’t drilled into my heart. I’ll admit that I did judge a person based on first impressions in the past and I don’t think I’m alone in that. We can’t help it. We do it automatically.

I remember the first time the thought of not judging someone based on first impressions really hit me was way back in freshman year of college.

It was a new school, with new students, and the first day of class, I made some acquaintances, and “sized up” the students in the classroom and automatically built profiles in my head based on observations and some casual interaction that were later to be completely shattered by the end of the quarter.

Completely shattered.

As if someone gathered all the nuclear bombs in the world and set them off in front of the mental profiles that I had constructed in my mind in the beginning of the quarter. I was so embarrassed at how completely wrong I was that I didn’t trust my own judgment from first impressions from that moment on down to this very day.

I’d like to give some examples, but to be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed to put it out there.

And I know this seems like common knowledge to a lot of people and I’m sure it is.

But it’s probably common knowledge in their head. Not in their heart.

There is a huge difference between the two.

Take for example, a person who has heard all his life not to drink and drive. Yet, he goes to the bar and downs a few drinks and chooses to drive home and on the way home, he nearly crashes his car in the center divider.

That experience can really drill what we have inside our heads into our hearts and it’s from that experience that we really “get it”. We understand and we never forget from that point on. And that’s important. It’s not enough to know in your head. You have to know it in your heart.

Passing quick judgment is a very dangerous habit because once we’ve judged someone, all our thoughts, actions, behaviors become dictated by the judgment we have of that other person and we literally create a filter for that specific person and that’s just not fair. It really isn’t.

Remember the introverted person I was talking about? Guess how many people would start a conversation with him to get to really know him? Very little. Very little. Why?

Because they’ve already passed judgment on him as arrogant. Their behavior was filtered through that so they don’t take the time to get to really know him and that’s a shame. You end up treating someone a certain way based on a picture that can be, and is usually (at least in the beginning) completely wrong. Completely wrong. And should you spread your judgment to others, it only compounds the situation even worse.

So keep an open mind. You don’t know the whole story. You just don’t know. But you can, if you just keep an open mind and take the initiative to find out.

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10 Responses to “Don’t Be So Quick To Judge”

  1. marcia siegel Says:

    brian, brillant post as usual. i love your insights.
    you are so right about keeping an open mind. getting to know someone and learning about them is fun.

    judgements are for protection. also people believe they are wise and savvy if they can sum up someone instanteously.

    judgements are all about your ego. the sad part is those that judge, judge themselves also.

  2. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Marcia,

    Thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

    I couldn’t agree with you more when you say that those who judge, judge themselves. It’s a slippery slope once you go down that road.

    Thanks again.

  3. Fran Says:

    Very insightful post.
    Every person has his/her wicked side wherein it’s the result of something bad that happened. It’s normal for people to act like that when it’s their bad day and we can’t judge them like that.

  4. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Fran,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    We all have our bad days don’t we ;)


  5. Melisa Says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this - I wish everyone would read it! One of the other casualties of passing judgement on others is the price you pay with your own feelings. I had a light bulb moment several years ago as my husband and I were trying to speed to the nearest hospital (75 miles away) because I had just broken my ankle. We were in Montana on a two-lane road with limited opportunities to pass other vehicles, and as he was grumbling under his breath about the “slow, stupid drivers” in front of us, I was thinking to myself that they were calling him a “crazy, impatient, potentially dangerous” driver. Then he said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could have one of those emergency flashing lights to put on your car in a situation like this?” What he wanted was some way of showing the other drivers that his behavior was not crazy or erratic, but that it was necessary and justified. The flashing light would give the other drivers more information: We have an emergency! The light would help put his actions into context so they could not just understand what he was doing, but even help him to accomplish it (by getting out of the way).

    A couple weeks later as I was driving down the highway, some “jerk” came flying up behind me, cutting off other drivers while weaving in and out of traffic at a high rate of speed. I felt myself growing angry at this jerk, getting ready to tell him exactly what kind of so-and-so I thought he was, then I remembered the cast I was wearing. Hmmmm… maybe he was rushing his wife to the hospital because she had just broken her ankle - or was having a baby! Maybe he was in a hurry because he was late picking up his first-grader from school. Maybe….

    I didn’t know him or his situation. All I knew was what I saw, and that was enough for me to label him “Jerk” and call him nasty names. I realized how wrong that was, how wrong I had been for many years, thinking that the rude cashier at the grocery store was mean or uncaring when maybe she was tired from caring for an elderly parent. Or discovering that my down-the-street neighbor who never waves or says hello isn’t anti-social, but maybe shy.

    I started being more understanding and compassionate toward people. I don’t waste energy getting angry with bad drivers, rude cashiers or anyone else who does things I don’t like. Even further, I don’t take the annoying little things that happen in the normal course of the day as personally as I used to. Overall, my whole disposition is sunnier. And, I vowed to try to teach my young son the same things. Thanks for trying to spread the word at reserving judgement. Every bit helps!

  6. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Melisa,

    Thank you VERY much for sharing your story and your thoughts on the subject. I think it’s brought this article to a whole new level.

    It’s great to see how you were able to literally change your whole disposition on life to a sunnier one through one of your personal experiences and I think it’s such a great one because it involves the “crazy driver on the freeway” example that I think most people can relate to, so the next time they see one, they’ll think of your story (at least that’s probably what I will do ;) ).

    “I started being more understanding and compassionate toward people. I don’t waste energy getting angry with bad drivers, rude cashiers or anyone else who does things I don’t like. Even further, I don’t take the annoying little things that happen in the normal course of the day as personally as I used to.”

    I couldn’t have said that better myself. Those are some of the great byproducts you get in life when you start to reserve judgement.

    Thank you again for sharing. I think I speak for all readers when we say we appreciate it!

  7. Alan Says:

    I agree. There is a reason on every behavior and we can’t judge those behavior without any considerations. We will certainly feel bad if other will judge us without understanding our situation for the moment.

  8. Brian Kim Says:

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for adding your thoughts. You’re right when you say there’s a reason for every behavior and we can’t judge when we don’t know the circumstances.

    Also, like you said, placing ourselves in the shoes of the person we are judging can be very effective as well in deterring us from engaging in that behavior.

  9. missy Says:

    This carries on to not just manners, but race as well. I recently moved to the south after having been raised and bred in the north, and it is sad how minorities are viewed in the tiny town i moved to. It is both overt and subtle at the same time, but wrong wrong and wrong. I dont judge the perpetrators because i try to took at history, and in the South is where some of the ugliest forms of racism began and has occurred and also ones upbringing has alot to do with how minorities are seen and treated. It gets passed from generation to generation, but to avoid becoming ignorant myself and becoming judgemental of the locals, i look at history and realize that ignorance and racism gets passed from generation to generation and some people know not what they do. I try myself not to become judgemental and view them in a certain light, or group them all together as such. Im latina, proud, and super smart so to me it is more sad than anything else to see how the other half lives and what they think and how they feel of those who are different, as in your example, introverts.

  10. Don’t Be So Quick to Judge « The Confluence Says:

    […] To help me in my quest for self-improvement I went to “the Google” and sought the assistance of ‘the Internets’ (you know…that technology Al Gore invented and Ted Steven’s so articulately explained.) I found an inspiring site with an article aptly titled “Don’t Be So Quick to Judge.”  Eureka! I said to myself…this article was serendipitously waiting for me to read it! […]

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