Why Are We So Quick to Social Judgment and Condemnation?

Are we all so without sin that we can sit above the rest of world in social judgment, condemning everyone else of their terrible mistakes?

I apologize for the negativity I’m throwing your way today, but there’s something I need to get off my chest. We’ve all heard the story this week about a crew member killed by accident on a movie set and it has my heart all open once again. The next few hundred words aren’t about the incident but our reactions, our lack of compassion and overactive social judgment.

On my way into the city this week, I decided not to listen to any podcasts, but to listen to some music quietly and think. Sidenote: the “Legacy of Laurel Canyon” playlist on Spotify is excellent for such mental wanderings. The last thing I scrawled out in my notebook as I drove was:

“Why are we so quick to judge and condemn everyone we see or hear about? It’s terrifying.”

It’s everywhere I look, social media posts, news media, and comments. One quick glance at anyone or any situation and we’ve summed up the person and condemned them to die a horrible death, as if the one action we know about is the one that represents everything they were, are, and will be: useless.

One of the reasons I am so hesitant about social media the past few years is because watching people, not just strangers on newsfeeds, but friends and family, do this every day makes it harder and harder for me to go out into the world, let alone share anything I’m doing online. I beginning to live in mortal fear of making a misstep and being hounded by the lynch mob of public opinion.

I hear people say, “Don’t worry so much about what others think! Just focus on yourself. If you think you’re good, that’s all that matters.” But does it these days?

Anything anyone says or does can be taken out of context and made into a nightmare on the internet. Any mistake you make can be captured and ridiculed and passed around for the social judgment and condemnation of millions.

A couple years ago, when my son and I drove our Baja VW Bug up to the mountains, there was so snow. It was slippery and, yes, probably a little dangerous. The risk seemed acceptable to us. I trust my son’s abilities, he’s level-headed and smart. The worst that could have happened was that we might have gotten stuck in the snow and need to be rescued by a tow-truck. I’ll admit it, a little risk is fun.

But I wasn’t worried about dying on the side of the road or the cost of repairs to our vehicle. All I could think about was the attacks I might receive on social media if we got into the news. “Homeschool Mom Lets Teenager Drive in Snow” The social judgment would be severe and not necessarily limited to words printed in the comments of an article.

I’m not immune to knee-jerk social judgment. The news stories that come out daily make me cringe, too. Typically, my immediate thought is, “This shouldn’t have happened!” or “What were they thinking?” But then I stop and think about that person. How would I feel if a mistake I made killed someone? How would I react to realizing that my misjudgment or ignorance, or even my own laziness or lack of attention, caused something terrible to happen?

How would you feel? Would it make you feel better to open your internet browser and find the headlines about what kind of an asshole you are; would it bring anyone back or heal any wounds? Would it fix everything to get emails, texts, and comments directed at the different ways you should pay for what you’ve done? Or would all that nastiness only create more pain and strife; extend one horrible incident into more?

Where is our compassion for others? Why do we watch the humanity around us with an eye of contempt, ready to pass judgment and string up anyone that comes across our path?

It’s as if we are all Romans at the Coliseum, watching and cheering as others are thrown to the lions. “Who’s next?” we scream into the arena. “He deserved it!” Human beings being torn apart for our amusement.

Does it make us feel better? Does it lift us up to throw words of hate at each other? And don’t we worry about when the wheel of misfortune will fall on us? Or do WE believe we are above all the stupid mistake THEY make?

What am I doing to combat this? I’m taking some advice from Arthur Brooks and extending more love and acceptance into the world, one interaction at a time. When I saw the articles about the movie set incident come into my news feed, I read them with shock at first, but didn’t respond to it. I sat there thinking about it awhile.

When it came up again through friends in the film industry and out of it, I started to respond but then pulled back. Yes, I have my two cents, but it seems that the world is rich with opinions and points of view and doesn’t need them.

I reversed things and thought about what it would be like to be the person that made the mistake. I can’t imagine it fully. It hurts too much. And because I can feel that I don’t think adding to that injury is a positive move.

I’m loving into people instead of condemning.

Leads me to think of a previous post I wrote, “Assuming Positive Intent is the Start to More Compassion” while reading “The Art of Happiness.”

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