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Reflections on human nature: Judging others


NatureGurl
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I've really been enjoying Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.

 

He says that, with limited information, we tend to make up stories that fit what we want to believe, whether it is "true" or not. And of course, we tend to make up stories that put us in a positive light and others in a negative light. Being in the social sciences, I am essentially a student of human nature. And I've observed that, with my grad student colleagues, I really do make up stories about them in order to fit what I want to believe about them and me.

 

For example, I had a classmate, let's call him "Bob," who is a White male, relatively athletic, and good-looking by American standards. I took a dislike to him last year because I felt that he was too flirty with our female professor, thus using his good looks, charm, and maleness to "win over" our instructor. This year, I have class with him again, and now that I've talked with him in small group discussions and worked with him on a small project, I like him better. I now see him as a more complex human being than the superficial characteristics I was focusing on last year. So the way that I framed the issue was to compare him to myself in terms of physical appearance and personality and to find him at fault when really I was the one that was at fault... for judging him in order to make myself feel better (although you never really do feel better, do you?). I was always a sore loser.

 

So now I think that my tendency to judge others is not very helpful. I still do it, of course, but I am more conscious of it and try to think about why I do it. Is it because I'm insecure about my own appearance/abilities/charisma? Are other people really there to outshine and outdo me? Or, are they also just trying their best to figure this thing out called grad school?

 

Bob is not the only person in my department that I've misjudged. I've misjudged others as well (although, there are a handful of people that I did not misjudge!). If others are like me, then I would say we're all very self-absorbed (to varying degrees) and probably we are all just walking around in our own little bubbles thinking that everyone is out to get us when really we're just making stories in our heads to compensate for the truth, which is that we are afraid to face our own limitations and weaknesses.

 

I don't like that I have a tendency to judge others. But I'm working on it, and I'm wondering what others here think.

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I know I judge people, like I did an internship with a group of about 12 people and there was one girl, she was super pretty and super blonde (literally her hair was super blonde not me stereotyping). I remember the moment I saw her I thought she was going to be snobby and stuck up because she was so pretty, she turned out to be one of the sweetest people ever and she and I still occasionally talk.

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I think all human conflict arises from the inability/unwillingness to see other peoples' perspectives. No matter how many times we hear the importance of stepping into somebody else's shoes, in situations that evoke any negative emotion (anger, envy, humiliation, hurt of pride) it is very difficult to think logically and step over to the other side. Emotions are often the driving force in how we judge others.

 

Personal Example: I am 23 and poor so when I see people my age have careers and the money and resoruces to do whatever they please, I want very much to think "they earned it, they deserve it, they made it" but I don't necessarily think anything at all. I feel. I feel resentment and jealousy. One of my best friends from college and I got an apartment together after graduation, she soon after got a very well paying job at a top investment bank and in the last six months or so we have drifted apart completely and I am so much less closer to her even though we live a few feet apart. I wish my emotions didn't drive me to the point that being around her made me so bitter, reminding me of everything I am not, so much so that I am hampering a very cherished friendhsip. But I simply cannot stop thinking it's all so unfair and just be happy for her (I am, but I am more sad for myself lol).

 

In short, I think us human beings are very self-absorbed and that's the one thing I wish could change about myself, but for some crazy meta self-absorbed reason. So I cannot not be self-absored. It's a paradox.

Edited by SocGirl2013
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In short, I think us human beings are very self-absorbed and that's the one thing I wish could change about myself, but for some crazy meta self-absorbed reason. So I cannot not be self-absored. It's a paradox.

 

LOL, yes!

 

I guess it's just so hard to get out of our own heads. That's why in my field, when people talk about racial/gender/class equity/social justice, and they come from a middle to upper class White background, I just shake my head. You can say that you understand, but do you really? I don't know, this is something that bothers me, and I can't help but apply the theories I'm learning in my own situation right now--as a grad student taking classes and doing RA/TA work with other people. Grad school is quite social in the sense that we're always interacting with people, so being a student in the social sciences--sometimes it drives me nuts with all the meta-analysis!

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I think people are always simplifying others because it's easy. 

 

I find myself doing this because I believe others are doing it to me. lol It's because I keep forgetting that I'm not nearly so important in the opinion of others as I am in my own ~ also, it's not like I'm a great judge of character or anything. I get some accurate hunches that I let biases cloud and I need to remind myself that this type of mindset didn't help me in the past. 

 

So I'm with you, OP. 

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I think people are always simplifying others because it's easy. 

 

I find myself doing this because I believe others are doing it to me. lol It's because I keep forgetting that I'm not nearly so important in the opinion of others as I am in my own ~ also, it's not like I'm a great judge of character or anything. I get some accurate hunches that I let biases cloud and I need to remind myself that this type of mindset didn't help me in the past. 

 

So I'm with you, OP.

 

Yes! This is what Kahneman says about our "System 1" thinking, which is automatic, based on feelings/intuition and limited information, and creates (what to us) are coherent stories consistent with our prior knowledge, experiences, and beliefs.

 

Certainly everyone is doing it to each other, which is why I find it hilarious when people eventually tell me what they think of me--which is often so far from the truth that I have to laugh (I mean, there is a tiny grain of truth, but ultimately it is a very small part of me). For example, I admit that when I was in high school, I used to "bag on" some people a lot (you know, teasing in a sarcastic sort of way), and I was really good at it. Well, this one girl eventually told me that she was scared to interact with me because she was afraid I would bag on her, too! This was interesting to me because apparently that was the only side of me she'd ever seen. I suppose she was correct to make this judgement, based on the limited amount of information she had about me--BUT, it was certainly not the only thing I ever did! But, things are never so one-sided in social interactions, so I'd have to say that it was partly her timid nature that gave her that impression of me. Perhaps someone who was used to "bagging" or who had a different personality would not have interpreted my actions as aggressive but rather as funny/humorous/witty (which is how I definitely would have spun it).

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think all human conflict arises from the inability/unwillingness to see other peoples' perspectives. No matter how many times we hear the importance of stepping into somebody else's shoes, in situations that evoke any negative emotion (anger, envy, humiliation, hurt of pride) it is very difficult to think logically and step over to the other side. Emotions are often the driving force in how we judge others.

 

Oh man, first year or two of college I had a lot of problems with this. It made friendships feel fake and ultimately made life pretty lonely. I realized it was due to improper thinking and judgement, but it didn't really crystallize for me until I found this quote by Osho: 

 

 

Each person is such an infinite mystery, inexhaustible, unfathomable, that it is not possible that you can ever say, "I have known her," or, "I have known him." At the most you can say, "I have tried my best, but the mystery remains a mystery." 

 

It was like.. there are people who are humans, just like me, and I know nothing about their circumstances, goals, fears... what right do I have to judge? Now whenever I catch myself being needlessly judgmental I automatically think of this perspective and it puts me right back in line. Following this mantra has made me a much more tolerable human, and I am happy from how it has shaped me into the person I am today.

 

All in all, I think achieving true empathy is a milestone that every late teen-early 20s kid will reach. Some learn from it and grow, some don't. So you shouldn't feel all that bad about your past behavior, be glad that you have recognized it as a flaw in your character and know that you have enough self-awareness and drive to improve your future interactions with all the new people you meet. :D

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I trust my instincts when it comes to judging people.

 

And I usually reserve my judgment until I've had the chance to observe them for a while. Other than that, I don't think about it too much

Edited by spectastic
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  • 2 weeks later...

Judgment is a natural and safe response when meeting new people, but to act upon that judgment can often lead to poor first impressions and reinforces formalities. Carry a happy disposition when meeting new people, realize that most people just want to be liked and valued by their peers. The more you smile and share interest in others, the more likely you will receive. If you don't connect with someone that's okay, it's more than likely beyond your control.

Edited by yolk
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yolk has a good point. Judging is human. We consider "good judge of character" to be a desirable quality in a person. Our daily lives and literature is peppered liberally with phrases that express regret for poor judgment of others like: "I should have known s/he was like that...."

Profiling others isn't just helpful, but actually necessary. We use social cues to make decisions on how to converse with others. These cues come for social constructs (men don't wear dresses for regular apparel, women are afraid of snakes and spiders) and from the way a person appears (clothes, accessories, hygiene, and so on). Most of the time, these profiles work out for us. It's pretty safe to say that if you meet a guy in flip-flops, a t-shirt with some kind of beer joke on it, and a Git-R-Done trucker hat, asking about his investment portfolio won't open new avenues of conversation, just as you generally can't have a good conversation about the merits of 4.10 and lockers in Dana 44s with 33s with a suit. That's being judgmental and assuming all rednecks don't have portfolios and businessmen don't like to tinker with their jacked up 4x4s trucks. We all know that's not true. Some rednecks have great investment portfolios and some suits spend more on one 4x4 than most of us will spend getting a PhD.

Don't kick yourself for being judgmental. We all are. The trick is to stop the profile before we categorize someone negatively and then act on it. Oh, he's fat and short, therefore he's not intelligent. Oh, she's wearing heels to class, therefore she's a slut. Oh, a guy hanging out at a playground by himself, therefore he's a pedophile. Be fair.

So, you're a woman walking in a mostly empty, parking garage after dark and some guy steps out of the shadows near the exit door and starts walking the way you're walking. What kind of profiling do you do? Be fair, but don't be stupid. Odds are the guy is just going to go to his car and isn't paying attention to the woman at all. But enough bad things happen to women, done by men, in parking garages after dark. Well, you get it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Judgment is a natural and safe response when meeting new people, but to act upon that judgment can often lead to poor first impressions and reinforces formalities. Carry a happy disposition when meeting new people, realize that most people just want to be liked and valued by their peers. The more you smile and share interest in others, the more likely you will receive. If you don't connect with someone that's okay, it's more than likely beyond your control.

 

That's one of my problems. I connect too easily with people. I can converse with someone I've just met as if we were lifelong friends. And my mistake is that I often trust people before I truly get to know them. You know how there's the saying that you know who your true friends are in times of trouble? Yep, I've been burned more than once.

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Don't kick yourself for being judgmental. We all are. The trick is to stop the profile before we categorize someone negatively and then act on it. Oh, he's fat and short, therefore he's not intelligent. Oh, she's wearing heels to class, therefore she's a slut. Oh, a guy hanging out at a playground by himself, therefore he's a pedophile. Be fair.

 

 

Hey, that's me sometimes! :)

 

I don't necessarily kick myself for being judgmental, but I'm shocked sometimes at what spontaneously pops into my brain. Like the other day... when I see fellow grad students wearing bright pink sweatpants or camisoles to a doctoral class/research meeting/etc., I'm like, "really???" We're doctoral students, scholars-in-training, up-and-coming faculty, not undergrads!

 

I rarely act on these thoughts, though. I just smile and nod my head and act as if everything is okay and I don't notice that you look like you just flopped out of bed or should still be in bed. We have to keep up the pretense. Which reminds me of the movie Bridesmaids, which I just saw recently (I know, I'm so behind on movies/TV shows, etc.). And what I thought was hilarious was the part where the main character blows up at the fancy bridal shower and starts yelling and throwing things... I've done that a few times in my life. Yes, I am sometimes insecure and lash out when I feel "left out," particularly with a group of supposed women friends. So this movie really struck a chord with me. And I'm finding that grad school is not much different.

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