There are definitely people out there who are worse than you, right?
Maybe you are narcissistic and think a lot of people are worse than you. Or maybe you have low self-worth and only think horrendous people like paedophiles, serial-killers and terrorists are worse than you. Regardless of who you are and your level of confidence, I bet with a bit of digging we can find someone out there you consider yourself to be above or below.
It’s OK, we all do it. But do we ever stop to question this? When was the last time you stopped and frankly asked yourself “Why do I judge other people?”
Recently I had some fairly heated debates about the executions of the Bali Nine drug smugglers in Indonesia. What I found most interesting during the debates was that the people in favour of the executions, or at least of the belief that the offenders deserved whatever punishment they received, figured that they were somehow ‘above’ the drug-smugglers.
This is an interesting concept: being ‘better’ than another human being in a complete, universal sense. What it comes down to is that we think that a) we would make a different decision if we were in their shoes (i.e. not smuggle drugs), and b) our ability to make a different decision makes us better than them. ‘Better’ of course meaning more deserving of life.
I thought this was a pretty big call, as I don’t consider myself better or worse than any other human, or indeed any other animal on the planet. But I wasn’t always this way. I used to think I was better than paedophiles, worse than attractive people, better than people with low IQs, and worse than people with lots of money. The list goes on and on and on. In fact I was constantly assessing my ‘status’ in comparison to others; an endless task that used up a lot of my energy and didn’t seem to make me like myself more in the long-term.
As I built my confidence consciously over time I noticed an unexpected side-effect: I became less judgemental. At first I didn’t see this link, until one day I realised I was coaching people I used to think I was better than, and had changed to believing I was their equal. This triggered curiosity in me; what had changed? Why was it that I genuinely felt that status no longer existed?
After the executions I sat down to write this article and some key points emerged. I’d like to share them with you. Bear in mind I still have room to improve myself, I’m just sharing what has happened so far, and how it has increased my enjoyment of life.
COGNITIVE BIASES AND “FREE WILL”
During the debates, both online and in-person, I was struck by the emotional evidence that many supposed atheists and ‘rational’ people based their beliefs on. By emotional evidence I mean they believed things that ‘felt right’, rather than having beliefs being based on fact. One such belief is that we are somehow consciously in control of our own decision-making (therefore people should be held to account for their decisions). This belief is what the concept of punishment and vengeance is based on.
We punish criminal offenders based on the idea that they consciously choose to take their harmful actions, therefore they are ‘evil’ in some way and deserve pain in return for the pain they’ve caused. The problem with this is that it is simply not accurate. The latest neuroscience research is showing quite clearly that our decisions are made subconsciously (we are unaware of them) and then our conscious mind is ‘tricked’ into thinking we make the decision. It’s like allowing a child to choose what time they will eat dinner, giving them the illusion of control which allows us to manipulate them into eating dinner.
The difficulty comes when we try to categorize, which is just the brain being ‘lazy’ and not wanting to have to assess all the variables. So we start to think of people as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, when actually we are all capable of both good and bad behaviour, dependent on the situation, and when put to the test our belief-systems will subconsciously determine our actions.
“Free will”, a religious concept, implies that we can somehow make decisions that are unaffected by our influences, such as our upbringing, parenting and peers. That means regardless of the life you’ve had, you should be able to know the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (which by the way everyone has slightly different views on), and then have the motivation to make decisions that are ‘right’. I struggle to understand how people believe this when on any given day they can observe themselves making ‘wrong’ decisions, like over-eating, avoiding confrontations, and hiding their true emotions.
Put it this way: someone points a gun to your loved one’s head and says “Smuggle drugs for me”. You then do it, and get caught doing it. It’s the exact same actions as these two took, but do you also deserve execution?
The immediate counter argument is of course “But they chose to”. Well, in the scenario above so did you. You could have let them kill your loved one but you CHOSE not to.
So the real question becomes: did you really have a choice? Is there any scenario where you would have let your loved one die? Probably not. Because your entire life has led you to have a firm belief that you should sacrifice for your loved ones.
But what if your entire had led you to believe that you should put yourself first at all costs? Different decisions would occur, I imagine. Or what if your entire life had led you to believe that it’s a good idea to break the law for financial profit? If you believed this are you so sure that you would still pass up an opportunity to smuggle drugs? Or do you genuinely believe that no life whatsoever would lead you to have such beliefs?
You have no conscious control over what you believe. You just think you do, like the child thinking they control dinner time.
In the end, the reason you are reading this and not robbing a bank or molesting a child is because you were lucky enough to be born the person you are. There is no conscious choice in who we were born as, therefore no choice in what life circumstances or genetics we get, therefore no choice in what we end up believing, therefore no actual conscious choice at all, period. As Popeye famously said: “I yam what I yam”.
And that’s the point. Their decision for the Bali Nine group members to smuggle drugs is a complex calculation based on everything that ever occurred in their lives, plus their genetic predispositions. Yes there are people with good childhoods who do bad things, and vice versa, but this is a massive over-simplification. There are billions of variables involved, and in the end no-one is simply good or bad.
When you build confidence you will start to grow gratitude. You will come to realise that life is essentially luck-based, and you become grateful that you happened to become a person who can enjoy it and make helpful decisions. Spare a thought for those not so fortunate, because here’s the kicker: if you were to trade places with them, particle for particle, you would make the exact same decisions as them!
You are not better; you are simply privileged.
WE SEE OURSELVES IN OTHERS
One reason confidence reduces judgemental thinking is because when we see ‘bad’ things in others, we are really just seeing ourselves. For something to be ‘bad’ in our minds, we must have shame attached to it. And if seeing it in others bothers you, then some part of your mind must be worried you have it.
This is where it gets really uncomfortable for people. One reason we get so enraged with child molestation is because deep down, in the darkest and most honest pits of our minds, underneath the empathy for the victims, is the terrifying understanding that we all have the ability to abuse a child too. This doesn’t mean we would ever do it or even feel the desire, but we recognise that if another person can do it, by default we must be at least capable of it. In a paedophile we see the monster that lives inside us all.
Judgement of others is where we see our deepest fears being presented to us. When someone is racist, they are showing a fear of being in the out-group, or of being ostracized by their tribe. When someone bullies a physically disabled person, they are showing a fear of being perceived as weak. When we punish criminal offenders, we show our fear of being unable to control our behaviour.
As I, and my clients, conquer fears over time, the judgemental thoughts start to be replaced with empathy. We come to realise that we are frail, chaotic human beings like all others, that in fact our species is one massive family. We start to see that people who engage in harmful behaviour, by our judgement, are in fact suffering from pain themselves, victims of a life that created them.
When I look at the criminal justice system now, all I see is pain. The victims suffer direct harm from the offending, the supporters of victims suffer internal harm from their vengeance and hatred, the offenders suffer harm from their own behaviour, and the whole of society suffers from the harm of a system that increases crime. Nobody is winning. Look at the Bali Nine situation – who benefited from it?
If you’re ready to let go of the pointless burden of being judgemental, start by asking yourself some hard questions. When you notice yourself judging another person, try asking “What do I see in them that scares me?”
Addressing the fears that come up from such questions will help you build massive confidence over time.
If you’re tired of fear making your decisions for you, click to get instant free access to the Confident Mindset Inner Circle, an AWESOME 6-part online confidence series
COMPARISON TO OTHERS IS NOT CONFIDENT
Judging and comparing yourself to others is a sure sign that you are not currently able to validate yourself. You are using external measures to try and figure out who you are and how ‘good’ you are as a person.
How’s that working out for you?
Confident people do something quite different. They design a system for measuring themselves that requires nothing external. They don’t need other people’s feedback, results, outcomes, or other people to be ‘worse’ than them. Instead they measure themselves, in one way or another, on how well they live by their own personal values.
Check out my talk on values for Menprovement Academy
When you start actively living by your core values, a strange and exciting transformation starts to take place. Firstly, you will become more narcissistic! However this will not reduce empathy. Instead you will be very focused on your own behaviour, and through this let go of the energy spent trying to assess other people. With that barrier removed you will actually develop a deeper understanding of others, allowing you to form higher quality connections.
When you stop comparing yourself to others, particularly in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ you will start to see a more helpful version of the truth, and feel more powerful. Learning that there are so many billions of variables involved in being a unique person – that it is actually impossible to accurately compare two people – relives you of the stress of trying to be better than others. It will become clear that apples and oranges are more similar to each other than two individual humans! With all the complexities of childhood, genetics, culture, location, weather and more, a human is influenced by so many different factors that it’s impossible to find cause and effect relationships of behaviour.
So before you get on your high-horse, do so knowing three things:
- You are who you are because of luck
- When you see ‘bad’ in others you are merely seeing yourself and your shame-based fears
- The fact that you’re comparing yourself to others to figure out how good you are indicates a massive flaw in your self-confidence
I don’t say this stuff to aggravate you, but to free you! It is so much more enjoyable to live according to a closer representation of the truth than to continue with living a lie. You are a human, a unique one, and you could be embracing that with gratitude instead of sneering at others. You could also be helping to make the world more enjoyable to live in. The choice is yours…
(or is it?)