Judgement is on the opposite spectrum of sympathy

This month I had to live with other teenagers (my best friends) in a foreign environment for a week and half. There were mixed genders, and other kids our age that we hung out with every day.

In general, I spend most of my time with people older than me, so although normal for most 19 year olds, hanging out with other teenagers for a continuous period of time made me realize a lot of things I might not have otherwise noticed if this was my standard environment.

One of the most impactful realizations was that:

  1. Feeling judgemental is on the opposite spectrum of having sympathy
  2. Having a high degree of judgement can be detrimental to developing an “accurate” understanding of other people, and the world
  3. Increasing my ability to sympathize with others (not overly, but just enough to not be judgemental) is important.

When people feel lots of judgement towards others, it can be in either the presence or absence of empathy: you can understand exactly where the person is coming from and their situation or you can have no clue.

What we lack in this scenario is the ability to sympathize with that person: we can’t feel sorry for them, and therefore instead feel judgemental towards behaviour we disagree with.

Here’s the thing: most of the time when we think someone else’s behaviour is “negative”, it’s because that person has not built enough resilience to their biological instincts, limiting them from behaving in any other way (i.e. changing our demeanour when we’re around people we’re attracted to, or acting out on anger).

Note: this doesn’t excuse them or mean that they can’t have control over their actions. Instead, what it means is that they don’t have enough practice over having full ownership and control. This is still something they have to work on.

The problem here is that as an outsider, if you’re typically a judgemental person, you won’t be understanding of this and overfit your negative reaction and rationale on that person and scenerio. You’ll think it’s more “negative” than it really is, because of your subjective experience rather than the objective truth that that person’s behavior/scenerio is actually normal, to be expected, or currently outside of their control.

The danger in overfitting your reaction is that it imbalances you’re ability to both sympathize & empathize with that person in the future. It skews your understanding of them, or the world – and that compounding means your perception of the world outside of you continues to become more and more incorrect.

What’s interesting is that this tends not to happen towards people younger than us. An example is middle school students – it is so clear to the outside world when kids change their behaviour for their crushes, or to fit in with the cool crowd. More often, our reaction as a collective seems to be “awh, poor kids” or “awh, that’s so cute – they’re growing up and learning, experiencing life!”. We seem to never be able to judge them – not only because we can empathize with what they’re going through (they’re just being kids, exporing their biological responses to attraction, feeling confused and undergoing emotional rollercoasters) but the sympathy we feel for them allows us to not get clouded by judging their behaviour and in turn actually affecting our overall ability to empathize.

The blend of the two things create the ultimate ability to truly listen and understand other people.

My current environment promotes having high judgement. It’s viewed as a good thing: being critical might make you better at looking at/understanding inefficiencies (whether that directly be in other people, or the world). But I think having a critical lens on the world does not need to equal feeling judgemental. And that’s what I’m really getting at here: the feeling of judgement and negativity towards other people’s behaviour is more hindering that the lens of seeking objective truth and understanding, even if that be through a more critical lens than most people.

Knowing this, I’m personally going through a lot of internal shifts to remove emotional judgement, and truly be someone who can really listen to other people, feel what they’re feeling, increase my ability to empathize and sympathize with them, so that I can really understand and tap into their world.


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