The past few weeks have been somewhat of a shocker to me; a real hit from the blindside. Every year, the Family Care Network engages the community to provide a lovely holiday for the children, youth and families we serve – all of whom are victims of trauma and unfortunate life circumstances. This year, instead of asking folks to provide specific gifts for specific individuals, we asked people to contribute cash or gift cards so that we could empower our families to care for their own so they could experience the joy of giving themselves. Oh my goodness, you would have thought that we were stealing from...or worse abusing our kids!
To my dismay, many people reacted judgmentally and selfishly to our new gift giving approach. We received a lot of comments like “Those people will most likely spend the money on drugs and alcohol, and “how do you know those people will purchase the right things for their kids?” and even, “You’re denying ME the opportunity to buy the gift?!” For many, no manner of persuasion could cause them to change their mind; they had severely misjudged and hardened their hearts to the parents we serve. So much for the “Holiday Spirit.”
Consequently, it has been much more difficult to ensure our kids get blessed for the holidays this year. What a huge misjudgment. All of the families within our agency are caring, and want nothing but best for their kids. Many of them are foster parents who are incredible well-vetted community servants, who make tremendous sacrifices for the children and youth they care for. And, given our impeccable history, they all receive intense services, supports and oversight--there is no way we would allow these funds to be misused!
It was sad to hear all of the negative responses. Are we spiraling down morally so quickly that we have become depleted of compassion? Has the tide of self-centered narcissism and greed completely overtaken us? I pray not!
I am concerned that we have a segment of our society, the intermingling of faith and conservatism, which views anyone who does not fit their stereotype as “trash” who should be discarded. This viewpoint has strongly been reflected within our current politics, budgets and legislation. The irony here is that this heartlessness is so contrary to the teachings of Christianity, Judaism and most faiths, and it even goes against the “family values” which politicians love to embrace. How did we stray so far off course?
It has been well over 25 years since our national Welfare System was reformed, and yet there remains the perception of the “welfare mom,” someone who has baby after baby and lives on the public dole. This myth does not happen in today’s system and to say otherwise is an outright lie–a haughty, prejudicial lie!
Remember the “Golden Rule” – treat others as you want to be treated. Following this rule is not only the right thing to do, but is is the healthy, mature thing to do!
Here are some considerations about Misjudging and Stereotyping others:
First, it’s WRONG, self-righteous and self-condemning! There is never a good or right reason to judge or stereotype someone else. Even if nobody hears what you say, or knows what you think, a negative process begins which will result in harm to you and others. The virtuous thing to do is to be accepting, loving, caring, forgiving and empathetic – all which promote health and well-being.
Second, Misjudging and Stereotyping is a window into the heart of a person! It reveals a darkness, an insecurity, and a personal dissatisfaction or flaw. Plus, usually when we judge others we end up feeling guilty afterwards which exacerbates the problem. Current psychological research actually demonstrates that how positively we see other people, shows how satisfied we are with our own life and how much we are liked by others. Researchers have found that positively judging others effects how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable we are and vice versa. If you make an effort to stop judging others negatively, your own wellbeing and happiness will improve greatly.
Third, it makes one become increasingly narrow-minded and bitter! The more stereotypes that get formed in our mind, the narrower our view of the world becomes. It’s like building high walls around ourselves and then getting trapped in a deep well. Our perception of reality becomes a tiny opening above our head and we are no longer able to see, experience or appreciate the rich diversity of the world. Consequently, one becomes increasingly bitter, angry and hostile towards others. Breaking free from the habit of judging is actually one of the biggest steps that you can take towards embracing a more fulfilling, abundant and satisfying life.
Fourth, misjudging promotes and exacerbates social unrest, hostility and destructive forces! No matter how you rationalize your judgments, they do not add any positive value or emotions into the world, or to your own personal life. First they bring other people down; then they bring you down.
When a journalist once asked Mother Teresa, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered, “Go home and love your family.” If we stopped judging our own children or spouse, we would have much more loving relationships. If we stopped judging our co-workers, we would have a much more enjoyable atmosphere at work. If we stopped judging people we meet for the first time, especially those who are not like us, the whole world would become a much better place. Don’t you think?
Fifth, your judgements are usually based on errant, false or misperceptions! Example – the “welfare-mom” stereotype, a falsehood promoted by political pundits. Racism is built and perpetuated on false assumptions and information. Reflecting on the circumstances which prompted me to write this article, the hostility we experienced was totally based on misinformation, misjudging and stereotyping. If the individuals manifesting these inappropriate attitudes really knew the kids and families we work with, they would not be harboring that point of view. A wise mentor once taught me, “There are always two sides to a story – don’t make a judgment until you see the entire picture”, and, “Those that judge too quickly will soon become fools!”
I would like to close with a great list of “Ways to Stop Misjudging People” from the “Life’s How you Live It – because happiness is a choice” blog:
- Give everyone the benefit of the doubt
- Keep your observations and thoughts to yourself
- Look at yourself first before you pass judgment
- Look for the good in people, learn to ignore shortcomings
- Don’t be quick to judge if you don’t want to be judged yourself