Suspend judgment for better relationships

Judge Judy

This is one of those posts that, if I could send it to my younger self, could have changed my life.

We’re going to deal with two related and yet entirely separate issues, but at the same time: judgment and rush to judgment.

Humans seem to have an innate need to form opinions and judgments. Do you agree with that statement? Do you see how quickly you form an opinion? Because almost inevitably, you immediately had a response to my question about agreement.

That’s not necessarily a problem. The problem for communication comes in because a judgment can get in the way of hearing.

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Entitled to my opinion?

I have an opinion about opinions. Being human, I have an opinion about almost everything.

The old saying, “I’m entitled to my opinions,” misses the mark. It makes as much sense as, “I’m entitled to my thoughts.” Got a brain? You’re going to have thoughts. I can’t remember where I read this to give proper credit, but someone once pointed out that your brain secretes thoughts the way your pancreas secretes insulin. It’s just what it does.

Wisdom comes in not believing everything you think. Examine your thoughts. Recognize that you have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts.

For the sake of discussion, though, let’s leave the original expression in place, and look at corollaries.

Students hear this from me: “You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to have it taken seriously.” Just because you express it doesn’t mean it’s worth anything. Want someone else to take it seriously? Offer the underlying evidence that supports that opinion. The mere fact that you have an opinion will not sway anyone but the weak-minded. The underpinning for that opinion may make a difference to someone who incorporates it into their own mental structure and make it his/her own.

But go beyond that. “You’re entitled to your opinion. Whether it’s wise to hold onto it and cultivate it is a different matter.” In “I Wanted to Like It,” Karen Maezen Miller points out that opinions and their expressions have consequences. I know an opinion is just a thought, not a fact–but it often doesn’t feel that way. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, entitled to express it–endlessly, it seems. And because we don’t recognize the difference between thought and reality, we take our own opinion and the expressed opinions of others to heart, where it can set up shop and kill us.

We equate having an opinion with caring. It’s not the same thing.

Furthermore, we tend to be happier when we understand an opinion is a preference, not a need.

Here is something that goes beyond opinion to the level of experience (still not the same as fact): I am happier when I hold my opinions lightly, and there’s seldom a time when I am happier expressing my opinion than just keeping it to myself. Maybe that’s why blog posts have tended to taper off. 🙂 In any case, an unexpressed opinion held lightly seldom damages anyone or anything; an expressed opinion held strongly often does.

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