What made you decide to read this column? Maybe you saw the headline and chose to read on. You could just have passed over it. Either choice may not seem so different (though I’m glad you decided to read on), but decisions based on judgments like this can significantly impact our daily lives.
For some reason, you are curious enough to read on. Being curious helps us better understand the world and other people. We also make better decisions if we are curious to know more.
If you had decided you weren’t interested in reading this, perhaps you wouldn’t have learned more or understood something better. This is how judgment can interfere with and foreclose the potential for greater understanding and knowledge.
Which is not to say that judgments aren’t useful. Judgments are necessary when we have to decide something. But more often, judgment keeps us from understanding something important, even necessary, about a situation or another person — even about ourselves.
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Feeling curious toward our own thoughts and feelings helps us know ourselves better. It also is a good way to help us be curious about others. In fact, the more harshly we judge ourselves the more critically we see others.
We make judgments when we think we already know all we need to know. Along with judgments, sometimes go strong feelings, often of either approval or disapproval. The stronger we feel about our judgments, the more firm and immovable they become.
When our judgment includes strong disapproval or dislike, we become more dismissive and cynical. So, if you want to understand more about the world around you, while at the same time feeling less critical and cynical, it is important to turn your judgment into curiosity.
Genuine curiosity is not just about asking more questions. Questions can easily be thinly disguised judgments or criticisms.
A dad asking his son: “Why didn’t you do your homework?” is a common kind of question that is more judgment than curiosity, leading to a defensive response.
In general, judging leads us away from opportunities to foster better interactions with others. For instance, a spouse or partner who says, “You left the groceries on the counter and the dog got into them,” or a boss who admonishes her employee for “not sending me the right file,” may be missing an opportunity to be curious about what happened and why, leading to more potential conflict in the relationship.
By being genuinely curious, the other person feels your interest and, if there’s a problem, will be more likely to self-correct and do it differently in the future.
Whether it’s something more minor like reading a newspaper column, or more substantial like understanding your spouse or child, feeling curious before making a judgment allows you to understand the situation better and increases the chances that things will go more smoothly. After all, should you need to, there will always be time for judgment.
Tony Hacker, Ph.D. is a Seattle-area psychologist who sees individuals and couples in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org