Be wary of judgements. They help our brains to organize information, file new experiences nearly away into old ones, and make sense of the world. They can also simply a world that is too complex and multicolored to be orderly and predictable. They dismiss the uniqueness of people, places and experiences because it is easier for us to label in patterns and similarities and makes us feel smarter, analytical scientific.
I have been making these very judgements as I categorize and try to understand the new country I’ve moved to. With numerous novel experiences and overwhelming challenges we need simplicity to feel that we understand. This is adaptive at first, but when we are ready to open our eyes again, we see the oversimplifications we have assumed. Now that I have this neat understanding of what I think Germany is all about, I can step back and notice the exemptions to the rule.
I was up early on a Sunday when Munich is quiet and peaceful. No rush hour, no meetings to attend, no cell phones, crowds or loud music. This is a time when I think people can be more like themselves, and see each other, too. As I am jogging, I notice an older man running past. I still make eye contact with everyone as an old habit from the U.S. where runners all wave to each other or smile. This man smiles back at me and waves “Guten Morgen” –pretty rare in Bavaria! We cross paths twice more and he catches up to me as I drop my pace. He says something friendly/funny about racing each other on the next lap. I laugh and explain I’ve hit my exit point and am exhausted. I leave with a big smile on my face.
An hour later my expectations are, again, pleasantly unmet as I am riding the subway. The U-Bahn (“underground train”) driver decides to override the automated announcements at the last station to wish us all a nice Sunday. Then he steps out of the train to thank us for riding and make sure we all exited.
Judgements can also be considered Confirmation Biases in psychological terms, which block us from recognizing experiences that fall outside of our expectations and understandings that are based on simple categories and stereotypes. This closes us to the environment around and blocks new learning, but retains our sense of certainty and security within a world we believe we know everything about.
There is a time and a place for both attitudes, and that is why they exist. Yet we have to be careful of how these mind-maps lead to racism, sexism and all isms when we are unable meet a new person with an open mind, as a unique individual that we don’t know anything about. This can be uncomfortable to be completely in a state of not knowing. We like to fill that blank slate as quickly as possible to ease that discomfort. Thus we jump into assumptions and the comfort of old beliefs instead of being open to a new person as unique and accepting them as different from anyone else we’ve ever met before.
In coaching, we look at how these judgements then turn, not only against our community, but against ourselves. When we judge others, the negativity trickles back to ourselves eventually. Have you ever listened to what your inner critic is judging you for, all day long? It’s harsh and not helpful.
Coaching works to build strength, motivation, and positive energy. In order to do so, we look at what is taking energy away from us, how we are getting in our own way. As an example, our own ego is constantly blocking our success in a foreign language. We judge the way we sound as embarrassing, thus we don’t speak with others, don’t get the practice we need, and then remain stuck without ever getting the practice that is crucial to progress. This limits job opportunities and friendship opportunities and keeps us feeling ashamed, keeps us in negative energy.
So the question for you is: how are you getting in your own way?