How I became less judgmental and more open-hearted

“The most important trip you may take in life
is meeting people halfway.”
– Henry Boye

I have a confession to make.

I used to be super judgmental.

It’s hard to admit, but at one point in my life, I actually made it a point to focus on the reasons I didn’t like someone. It was subtle of course, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time… but the first thing I searched for when meeting someone new was, “What don’t I like about you? In what negative ways are you different than me?”

I set my connections up for failure. And I did it all under the guise of being a quality person with high standards who simply didn’t have “room” in my life for anything less than extraordinary relationships.

Now don’t get me wrong… I absolutely recognize the importance of social discernment. The journey toward becoming our best selves undoubtedly entails associating with people and things that reflect and strengthen our most deeply held values.

And (being the science lover that I am) I see the evolutionary value of judging others, too. Historically, seeing someone who looked or acted differently than you was a red flag – a potential threat to your food, shelter, and other vital necessities.

So it’s easy to see how “being judgmental” has quite literally become an instinctual reflex.

But wake up in the 21st century, and you’ll see that most of us are conditioned to judge others for no real reason or inherent benefit. We do it recklessly, for sport, without ever realizing that our own mental and emotional lives are what suffer the greatest consequences.

This was something I had to come to terms with in myself.

And throughout my quest to better understand the mechanism of judgment (and wield it more wisely), here are some of the most important things I’ve found to be true…

Being recklessly judgmental harms your character.

I realized that the things I was thinking and feeling about others were in NO WAY aligned with the person I wanted to be, or the virtues I wanted to cultivate in my life. And in all honesty, it was pretty lonely at the top of my high horse.

But here’s what I find fascinating…

Most of the time, judging others is an unconscious attempt to validate our character — to justify our own behaviors, beliefs, values and morals by contrasting them to others’.

In reality, recklessly judging others can undermine our character.

Our need for external validation – and our willingness to sink to negative, inferior behaviors in order to achieve it – corrodes some of the most important character virtues of all… compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness, acceptance, and a level of personal excellence that actually inspires others to be better (instead of shaming them).

Being overly critical = Being in conflict with the world around you.

When you focus on the things you disagree with about a person or a circumstance, you are literally opposing it. You’re colliding with your own reality and demanding that it be different.

Obviously there is a time and a place for attempting to change the circumstances of our lives. But we’d better hope that we don’t find ourselves in this tug-of-war with ourselves day in and day out, over every little detail (which is what starts to happen when you are a chronically judgmental person).

Conflict is simply not conducive to happiness. And I want to be really happy.

It isn’t only in our “alikeness” that we grow and thrive – it’s in our difference as well.

Perhaps most importantly of all, let us remember that adversity breeds the greatest strength.

One of the things I’ve found most surprising and delightful is just how enriching an exchange can be between two people who have seemingly nothing in common.

We learn our greatest lessons from the people and experiences that challenge us most in life.

Everyone has a different path, different points of view, different likes and dislikes, different needs. We have to understand that separate realities exist. We have to honor the fact that it can’t be any other way. We have to celebrate that this is what stimulates us as a species and keeps us moving forward in all directions.

Most people – no matter how “open-minded” they claim to be – can’t handle diversity. So many people fail to realize that being open-minded is actually so much easier than the alternative.

Releasing the need to condemn others, and starting to see people through a more compassionate, loving and genuinely curious lens takes LESS outward effort and MORE letting go. Sometimes we have to release the tight grip we have on ourselves in order to fully embrace others.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned, probably my biggest takeaway is this…

In order to experience the full range of beauty, joy, spirituality, love and connection that I desire in this life, I have to continually strive to be a more loving, open-hearted person.

Reflecting back on the past year or so, here are some things I’ve implemented to help me on my journey…

1. Be open to random connections.

While I do accept fewer invitations these days than I did before I had kids, when I randomly meet someone, I try not to be closed to them. This means opening up, wondering who they are and consciously releasing any unnecessary pre-judgments that arise. I try to share who I am – genuinely, openly, and with a smile. I never know if it will be a connection to last a lifetime, but it can certainly be one to brighten a moment, if I let it.

2. Be open to who they are.

I try to identify unrealistic expectations that I sometimes have of others, and let them go. This kind of self-righteousness is toxic for all of my relationships – I don’t want to pigeonhole people, or try to make them someone they’re not. I open myself to exploring who someone is without knowing what I’ll find. It fosters curiosity. And I almost always find more than I ever could have hoped for.

3. Be open to anything that happens.

I’ll never forget the night I went to an outdoor festival with my girlfriends in Ithaca, New York to celebrate one of my friends getting married. We had planned it for months, and were so excited when the night finally arrived. But, as fate would have it, just before we arrived at the festival grounds, the temperature dropped and it started down-pouring cold, hard rain. We were so bummed, we sat in the car debating whether or not we should bail on the whole event. But one of the girls insisted that we stick it out and embrace the adventure. So we walked the mile from our car to the venue.

At first, it was horrible.

The rain was cold and sharp and coming at us from above AND below as it bounced off the ground into our faces. We literally couldn’t even open our eyes to see where we were going. We were miserable.

Finally, one of the girls pointed out how resistant we were being. She noted how tense our bodies were, and told us to completely let go of our discomfort, release our need to try and stay dry (which was useless at that point anyway) and embrace the entire experience wholly. To quite literally dance in the rain! As soon as we let go and accepted our reality with love (and even a little excitement) our bodies warmed up, we could see clearly, and we started having an absolute blast; Jumping in puddles, yelling at the top of our lungs, and dancing in the street.

This moment in time marks a pivotal lesson that I will remember at a cellular level for the rest of my life.

Sometimes the things that seem the most dreadful and uncomfortable call us so far outside of ourselves that they create the most profound emotional experiences. They shift us into a place of flow – where we are one with the world around us, free of resistance, and open to receiving whatever blessings the universe is trying to give us.

Being open to anything that happens, and learning to “go with the flow” is spirituality in action.

You’ll never know what amazing adventures life has in store for you unless you break free from your comfort zone and leap into the unknown (with a smile on your face).

4. Be open about yourself.

In our interactions with others, we often try to present a certain “good” side of ourselves. We showcase our desirable traits. Whether we do it from a place of authenticity, insecurity, or both – the truth is, we can’t pick and choose certain parts of who we are without building some walls around ourselves. These walls keep us divided internally, and they ultimately keep others out.

If we truly desire to have deeper, richer, more fulfilling relationships, we have to show a little vulnerability, and embrace our full range of humanity. We have to put ourselves out there, open up, and show our true colors. This creates a deeper connection with others, and ultimately greater inner strength for ourselves, too.

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