Observation without evaluation is the highest form of human intelligence, noted the Indian philosopher Krishnamurti.
The human brain doesn’t like not knowing; not knowing is a form of weakness, danger that triggers our defense mechanisms, prompting us to do something to change the situation. To walk into familiar grounds, and be able to control the situation. When we experience a gap in knowledge, it must be filled. We fill it with stories; stories that we tell ourselves based on our life’s experiences, based on our hopes, or based on our fears. Sometimes these stories have something to do with reality, in other times, they’re tangential. These stories are what evaluations are made of, what moral judgments are made of.
Why do We Evaluate? Why do We Judge?
7,000 years of Patriarchy taught us that we ought to know, and we ought to know better than anyone else. We’ve been practicing these moral judgments of good and bad, weak and strong, too much or too little for thousands of years, and we let these judgments govern our way of thought. These judgments and evaluations phrase our stories, because we have to know, and we have to know better.
To Pay for Knowledge, We Sell the Present
Just like anything else that is done instinctively and without profound thought, judgments and evaluations come with a hefty price. The price of the present. When we look in the mirror and think we’re too short or too chubby, we lose the present. When we lie in bed with our loved one thinking we are, or they are something other than they are at that very moment, we lose the present. When we disregard our children’s pain, telling ourselves that it doesn’t really matter / she must know better / this is such a silly thing to cry about – we lose the present.
Judging myself, I lose me.
Judging you, I lose both of us.
Judging, I lose the present.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present”, as we’re brilliantly reminded by Kung Fu Panda.
The Real Loss Behind the Loss of Present
The actual price we pay for judging is the price of connection; when our brain is at work, our heart takes a time out, and when the heart takes a break, connection is impossible, and disconnection is the only option.
For 7,000 years we’ve been systematically taught to move away from our needs and feelings, to evaluate, classify, and judge. To put everything we see, everything that happens to us in its own distinct, and labeled box.
This is good. This is not good. This is bad. This is right. This isn’t right. This is wrong.
And even though this has been the common practice, and the only way to communicate for so very long, needs and feelings are still the only force moving this world. We’re just not aware of them.
What Stands Between Us and Our Happiness
Needs are never right or wrong, they can’t ever be too much or too little, they are never good or bad. Needs are autonomous and can’t be subject to adjectives of any sort. Everything we do, we do to get our needs met. Everything our loved ones do, they do to get their needs met. Nothing is ever against anyone, but always for the benefit of the self.
“This is selfish” you might think, but this is the thinking of your judgmental mechanism that automatically labels everything and stores it away in a familiar box.
If we were all just a bit more “selfish”, a bit more attuned to our needs and would strive to have them met, we would be much happier, much more content. And here is the real present – when our needs are met it is so much easier for us to meet the needs of those around us.
Moreover – when our needs are met, meeting the needs of others becomes a need for us. Because this is the beauty of happiness – it breeds more happiness.
The only thing standing between us and happiness is judgment. Evaluation.
How Can We Observe Without Evaluating?
How can we live in the moment, and not in the story? It takes practice, but practicing the heart muscle is the best, most beneficial workout you’ll ever do. It will transform every relationship you have, it will free you from your burdens, from all the pain caused by judgment. While we won’t be able to completely alleviate ourselves from this burden, we are indeed able to control it, to summon the heart when judgment takes the better part of us.
How Can We Know We Are Ruled by Judgment?
When we are angry, when we’re impatient, when we find ourselves thinking “this isn’t right / she isn’t right / I am not right”. We’re ruled by judgment whenever we find ourselves thinking something is not okay with the present, something is not okay with reality the way it currently is. We are ruled by judgment when we try to change something that is already happening, when we try to change the feelings of someone who is already, actively, feeling these feelings. It is then when we snap out of the moment and start telling ourselves stories.
Stories in Action
The other day, my son, Ilay, wanted wanted to watch TV in the morning, and my husband made a decision to not allow it, even though it was a Saturday morning, and the only day we allow screen time in the morning.
It was bright early and I am not really a mornings person, so waking up to Ilay screaming was quite of a trigger for me. My need for peace and harmony had gone unmet and I was irritable. “What’s going on here?” I said as I opened the bedroom door, no good morning, no nothing; “I told Ilay he couldn’t watch TV”, Jonathan said. “Why?” I asked, “because it’s too early” he said. Or something similar, I probably over heard due to Ilay’s screaming “mommy mommy watch watch”. A few more screaming minutes pass and I start crying, because it is really too much for me, and Jonathan looks at me and says “you can’t be angry with me about this”. I said that I can feel whatever I am feeling (fact that I’m already feeling it), “but anyway, I’m not angry with you, I just need peace and quiet, and the lack thereof triggers my emotions”.
Jonathan, too, needs peace and harmony, like everyone else out there. His need, too, had gone unmet, and he wrongly evaluated and judged my response as being angry with him, because he was probably just a bit angry at himself for not allowing the TV.
We let our unmet needs rule the way we talk, and the way we think, without being aware of their tremendous power. But who do you think, was the only one attuned to his needs and feelings that morning? That’s right. Ilay. the 2.5 year old who wasn’t yet taught to judge and evaluate, who was only expressing his feelings, his unmet need for entertainment.
So here’s how it works:
Unmet needs → unpleasant feelings → judgments and evaluations
Needs and Spider-Man
A few days ago Ilay wanted to wear his Spider-Man slippers to go to the beach; he adores Spider-man, he loves wearing Spider-Man printed t-shirts, playing with his action figures, watching Spider-Man cartoons, and it’s really a thing for him now. He didn’t really want to go to the beach, but we had already made the plan to meet friends and we decided that we’re going. It was then when he said “Spider-Man shoes”, as a strategy to meet his needs for self-expression, autonomy, and connection that had gone unmet by our decision to take him to the beach.
Aware of the needs that motivate us in everything that we do, and the feelings that arise in light of unmet needs, I let him wear the slippers. Otherwise, I would have probably told him “no way, these are slippers, we wear slippers only at home, and you will wear your sandals now because I said so and let’s go”. He would have probably started yelling and screaming and crying, and I would have probably judged him as a spoiled brat who goes crazy when he doesn’t get what he wants, and beach would have been terrible for everyone.
I would tell myself a story of a spoiled kid who makes a huge deal over Spider-Man shoes. When the real story here is about self-expression, autonomy, and connection. A story I could never see, if I was blinded by judgment.
Put an End to Judgment and Evaluation with this Simple Technique
The following is an amazing technique that I urge everyone who is not familiar with needs and feelings to practice at challenging moments. This is a technique taken from Nonviolent Communication practices and is referred to as Pure Observation, thus – observation without evaluation. It removes the story from the present moment, sending our brains on a break, allowing for our hearts to become our operating system.
It is very simple: tell yourself what’s happening, using only your five senses. Here’s how it works:
Judgement and evaluation: we are all set and ready to leave. Ilay is a spoiled brat; he is crying hysterically because [classical evaluation word] I wouldn’t let him wear his Spider-Man shows. He knows no boundaries or limits this boy. Honestly. Erghhhh.
Observation without evaluation (Pure Observation): We are all set and ready to leave, Ilay is very very upset. I see him crying. I hear him screaming.
That’s it. Now read the two descriptions above, again. Which one brings empathy, and the willingness to help? Which one connects? Which one disconnects? Which one will bring a beneficial solution, and which one will end up labeling one of the participants as “not okay”?
Choose Whole Hearts Over Armor*
In this case there is a right answer. And when we can’t make it better (if we’re not familiar with needs, or can’t seem to find the right one), let’s not make it worse. Let’s not instill shame, guilt and fear into the young hearts who chose us for their parents.
We have a unique opportunity to bring up a generation of empathetic human beings who sway away from judgment, who are attuned to their needs and the needs of those surrounding them. Who give for the sake of giving, for whom giving is receiving.
All we need to do is put our judgment aside.
Join my parenting support group on Facebook and tell me about your needs and feelings, I’d love to get to know you better 🙂
*Brene brown, Dare to Lead