There is no easy way to say this, so let me come out and say it bluntly: as a society, we are perhaps one of the most judgmental ones in the world. Period! We judge and we judge and we judge. Ever since I connected back to my writing, this got reconfirmed for me as I receive condemnatory feedback on some of the topics I wrote about. I only invited people to be empathic and in response, judgment was slapped in my face.

These days people who are testing positive for COVID are hiding from others and I saw social media filled with judgmental comments about this behaviour without a single person questioning why they are hiding. Most likely because they will feel judged with questions asked about why they went out. Why did they act so irresponsibly without any consideration that these are very, very difficult times and we all are doing the best we can?

I judged a lot in my growing years; on anything that I believed did not fit my reality. Was I empathic? No. I was sympathetic towards people but that also came from a place of ‘oh I am so sorry this happened to you’ while silently saying, ‘well you asked for it didn’t you’?

It’s only when I joined this field and started training as a therapist that I started to practice empathy and began to judge less. To not just sympathise, which is feeling sorry for someone without an attempt in understanding the other’s pain, but empathise and attempt at walking in the other person’s world, an attempt at simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting and communicating to the other that ‘you are not alone’!

So how did I move from this space of judgment to empathy? The most important thing I learned was that we are all born with a ‘real self’, a core personality that defines who we really are, and empathy is one of the qualities that we are all born with. But then what we call life happens to us and we start developing an ‘ideal self’, based on the parenting we receive, the value system that we swallow whole from our nuclear families without chewing any of the ideas that they teach, and what they judge, we judge.

Before you start judging me, assuming that I am saying our parents’ value system needs to be rejected, all I am suggesting is that we need to chew ideas before swallowing them whole. Also, we need to encourage each other to ask questions from a place of curiosity rather than placing verdicts beforehand, which facilitates filtered listening and we only listen to what fits our frame of reference.

This judgment of each other is a cancer that has spread in our society and I deliberately choose to use such a strong analogy because that’s how toxic it is. And now we have mediums like social media to spew as much judgment as we can on each other and inspire the practice of shaming of each other all the time.

It’s also important to understand that this judgment that is practiced across all classes leads to consequences that are also varied. Among the literate, someone might just block someone on WhatsApp because of an unwarranted comment, in the rural class it can lead to violence. We have all contributed to breeding this intolerance, but having the privilege of better education and exposure, we also have greater responsibility to change the toxic flavour of our society.

So how can we practice empathy? What I realised was that when I started building my relationship to myself, my connection to others became stronger. I started practicing empathy towards myself and the more I did, the more the layers of shame I had accumulated over the years started shedding away. Judgment brews shame and empathy facilitates kindness. It can only translate to others when we practice on ourselves first.

We have to work towards shushing that harsh inner critic who constantly creates doubts in our self, shames us and judges us before even anyone else does. Now imagine someone who is already judging themselves, lives with this internalised critic day and night and there comes along you saying unkind words and confirming for that person that the self-judgment is valid. Can you try imagining how damaging that would be?

My years of personal therapy that I received taught me to practice self-love and be kind to myself that leads to me being more empathic and less judgmental towards others and it is still a work in progress. I can also reject the judgment towards me, which I know is baseless, and is actually the judgment that the other has of him but is unable to hold it in and vomits out on me. But many of us cannot do that. Many of us silently hurt with the harsh criticism and the lack of empathy they receive from others.

Let’s stop judging! Lets’ stop policing and telling others what is right and wrong! Let’s not use our social media platforms to breed intolerance. The buck stops with us. Let’s all retire from our self-appointed judge’s seats. Practice empathy with yourself and extend it to others. Let’s work towards it before we truly become a cold, violent and terrifying society with war of all against all.

Zara Maqbool

The writer is a UK-CPCAB (Counselling and Psycho

therapy Awarding Body) registered individual and couple psycho therapist based in Islamabad. She can be reached at zaramaqbool