Being judgy is a privilege. And while having privileges can be a positive thing, this is one in particular you probably shouldn’t be using. At least not as much as you might be.
Everyone is judgmental to an extent. Being a little bit judgmental is actually helpful; after all, assessing whether you should skirt the guy with the creepy grin who’s been following you involves making a judgment. Judgments keep us safe, they help us make friends, accomplish goals, and all sorts of wonderful, important stuff. But “being judgy” isn’t quite the same thing as making a judgment call. And it’s generally not so nice–when we’re “judgy,” we are usually putting someone else down for a characteristic we perceive to be flawed.
What Being Privileged Actually Means
The idea of privilege has become really controversial in some circles, even offensive. Usually the people who are offended by the idea of privilege are the people who have it. But being called privileged isn’t actually a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Before “white privilege” or “male privilege” became buzzwords, privilege was just something good you had access to that others didn’t. Like the way one of my daughters has the privilege of eating a popsicle today while the other does not because she deliberately threw good food away yesterday to avoid eating it.
But privilege also refers to bigger things. And those things still aren’t bad. “White privilege” is only bad because everyone should be able to interact with a police officer without fearing being shot–but not because white people should lose that ability. If you have a privilege, instead of denying it, acknowledge it. Be grateful; you have an advantage that makes your life easier in some ways. Be glad of that…but also be humble, and help fix the problem that is causing you to have an advantage that others should have too.
Being privileged, however, doesn’t mean your life is easy. “Male privilege” means that when you have a good idea, people won’t doubt it came directly from you due to the size of your breasts, for example. But it doesn’t mean that you automatically have a fabulous life. White, straight, cisgendered males experience hardship and trauma and poverty and all sorts of difficulties. They’re still privileged; a homeless cis white guy probably doesn’t have to worry he’s going to be assaulted for using the bathroom, but a black trans guy might. The cis white guy still has the hardship of homelessness though, and that’s valid.
Privilege does not invalidate your pain. It’s okay to acknowledge your privilege. For example, as a white-presenting Latina, I don’t get followed around the grocery store the way my Latino-presenting husband sometimes does. I still don’t deserve to have been physically and sexually abused, and having PTSD still sucks.
How Being Judgy Is An Expression Of Privilege
Being privileged is not a bad thing, but it’s still not cool to go around flaunting your privilege or using it to hurt others. When it comes to privilege, a little self-awareness goes a long way. We can make conscious choices to scale back when we see our privileged position dominating someone else’s accomplishments, or we can use our privilege to elevate others–like this science reporter who actively seeks female experts for his news stories after realizing he was using mostly male sources.
Being judgy–the negative form of judgmentalism that hones in on people’s perceived flaws and defects to bring them down–is a type of privilege that is bad. It needs to stop. We’re all guilt of being judgy sometimes. If we’re being honest, at some point in time we have all unfairly–even cruelly–judged someone else. Here’s why it’s a privilege, and why, if you’re still doing it, you need to stop. Now.
In order to judge someone, you have to feel that you are better than her. If you judge homeless people for not working hard enough, what you’re really doing is gloating about your ability to be productive enough–and paid for it–to keep a roof over your head. Think drug addicts are scum? You’re expressing the privilege of not having a substance use disorder. Hate those who can’t get past trauma, because you had something bad happen to you and you’re fine? That is actually self-congratulations for not being genetically predisposed to PTSD. Those are simplistic examples for the purposes of explanation, but just about every judgement you can make about another person stems from a place of privilege.
Cruelty And Judginess Also Stem From Pain
Of course, there’s the flip side. People who are contented in their lives may have heaps of privileges, but they’re probably also not that judgmental of others. Judging others negatively is cruel. Cruelty comes from a place of pain. If you find yourself reaching for a snide remark when you see someone fumble, there’s probably a wound beneath that impulse.
Like I mentioned earlier, pain and privilege are not paradoxical. If you find yourself judging others a lot, you’re probably both privileged and in pain. The fact is, almost all of us have insecurities, and almost all of us have some kind of advantage (or self-perceived advantage) over someone else. Which is why almost all of us are, at some point or another, a little (or a lot) judgy. But we don’t have to be.
What To Do If You’re A Judgy Person
So what can you do about it? First, admit to the privilege. You think someone is pathetic for needing government assistance? Recognize that you come from a wealthy background, or that you are in good enough physical and mental health to maintain a steady job, or that you’re exceptionally intelligent and were able to land a really cushy job straight out of college (or that you had access to college at all). Whatever it is that contributes to your privilege–admit it.
Next, figure out what is causing you pain. Why are you so triggered by the guy who asks for money on the corner? Did you grow up in a household where your requests for help were met with orders to try harder, even when you really needed the help? What is about a fat person eating fast food that puts you off so much? Maybe you really love fast food and feel spiteful toward that person because of your own dietary choices that restrict you from it. Again, those are pretty simplistic just to paint a general picture, but they make my point: Your personal pain probably has nothing to do with the person you’re hurting. So identify it, and then work on healing it.
And finally, while you’re working on it…if you find yourself thinking mean judgy thoughts…keep them to yourself. Believe it or not, you actually don’t have to snicker aloud at that sloppy eater sitting alone at the cafe. You have no obligation to send that rude tweet to the person who started a thread about depression. It’s fully possible to have judgmental thoughts without expressing them to other people who will be hurt!
Don’t Be Judgy To Yourself If You Fail
Habits are hard to break. Any habit, for any person. Our brains are hardwired for repetition. If you’ve made a habit of being judgy, then you’re not going to eradicate it overnight. Even if you admit your privilege and identify your pain, you may still find yourself judging others simply because you’re used to it. And that’s not great, but you know what won’t help? Judging yourself.
Instead, practice self-compassion. Doing that–and it’s a good idea for any mistake actually–will allow you to move forward rather than wallowing. It will also start you off on a new habit: not judging.
Now all of this is easier said than done–like most things that are worth the effort. I’m still working on being less judgy. But I guarantee it’s worth it, because in my experience, if you don’t fix it within yourself, the world will take care of it for you. You’ll lose the privilege that allows you to make that judgement. So instead of learning the hard way, try exercising restraint, self-awareness, and self-compassion. Being judgy is a privilege, but it’s not one you have to use.