writing on suffering and awakening

Everything we judge in other people exists in us

I find myself judging other people every day. It seems to be almost automatic—I see something about someone that I don’t like and my head starts talking. But when I notice this, I’ve started asking myself: where’s the difference between me and the person I’m judging?

If I’m honest with myself, I can see that whatever I’m judging in another person is always reflected in me, in one way or another.

Let’s start small. I hear someone playing loud music in their car as they drive by, and am immediately full of unkind thoughts. But, of course I’ve done the same thing, both explicitly and more broadly, because I don’t always think about how my actions affect others.

Going bigger, most of us probably think less of others for seeing things differently than we do. Take a look at social media—that seems to be much of what goes on. But of course, your perspective and mine are as limited as anyone else’s—bound by our experiences and our awareness. In other words, we don’t see the whole picture either. If we did, we’d be laughing, not judging.

But let’s take this question in a really uncomfortable direction—towards the stuff that our society has deemed crimes. There, it feels safe to judge, right? We’ve even got official systems to do just that. Surely we’re right to feel superior to those who can’t abide by our laws?


Again, let’s ask ourselves: am I really so different from the person I’m judging? We may not necessarily have done what they’ve done, but if we look inside ourselves, we see that the seeds of their actions are within us as well. Who among us has never wanted to harm another person? Who has never lied? Who has never wanted to have sex with someone they shouldn’t have? Who has never cheated or stolen, even if but a little? Who has never failed to see the humanity in another?

Of course we can say: well, the difference is we didn’t act on any of that in a truly harmful way. But our actions are a matter of circumstance meeting how we see things—if we were in another’s shoes, we would act as they did. Besides, who among us hasn’t caused our fair share of harm?

If we think we’re better than anyone, we’re not paying attention.

This isn’t a call for anarchy. Our actions have consequences, and we owe it to ourselves and each other to do everything we can to avoid hurting anyone. But when we condemn other people as separate, different and wrong, we’re being dishonest about our own flaws, and missing out on an opportunity to practice compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

My sense is that we’re far better off by acknowledging that the seeds of everything are in us. Then we don’t have to expend so much energy beating each other down to try and feel like we’re above it all. We’ll also have an easier time not acting on our own worst instincts, which tend to soften when we give them room to be.

Maybe we can use that energy to be kinder to each other instead.

Ian Cooper