Judge me … Judge me not …

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Have you ever felt judged harshly or have you seen a friend or family member bowed down by blame? Or have you made an effort to see past a person’s weaker traits and offer kindness simply for who they are? Some say hate and division exchanged daily by leaders ramp up judgments among the rest of us. Others say judgment starts with unfair assessments at school or corrupt competition at work, and is here to stay. I say our brains can throw open a miraculous escape hatch from eddies of judgment into rivers of kindness and care when we need refreshing most. And we all do!

If we hold onto judgments more than we grasp the freedom of “letting go,” we’ll miss the wonder of grace.

Sure, we feel blame’s sting most when accused for something we didn’t do, criticized after we apologized sincerely, or genuinely tried to reconcile and failed. We also all judge others, and even ourselves unfairly at times though. That is not a time to beat up on ourselves or drop our efforts to pick up the pieces, let go of our fragile slips, and step forward again with the same determination we held at the beginning of our quest to improve a practice that’s doing us in. New research studies show that when we forgive ourselves, and forgive others, we sleep better and enjoy better health.

Forgive because of guilt or a sense of shame and it likely leads to a lifetime of regret. Forgive ourselves and others with our minds and we transform judgement into joyful reconciliation with a crisp, new skip toward lasting kindness, compassion and care for all.

The fact is that judging one another and judging ourselves harshly is a learned behavior and our brain is not always a help to stop the misery. How so? It turns out that each time we give into judgment’s wizardry, we lay down new neural connection in our chemical and electrical circuitry for more of its self-righteous edges. Ouch!

Oh, and have you noticed it gets worse? Along with our stored fault finding experiences we stockpile in our brain’s basal ganglia, we also file every lived experiences of judgment there. That includes blame, guilt, fault-finding, blameworthy rants, liability, denunciation of others and so on. Not that our basal ganglia storehouse is stacked with sheer misery only.

It’s both brainpower for mastery of ethical practices and at times our slave master to cynical opposites.  Unless we understand our brain’s equipment at work, we can easily fall into our basal ganglia’s propensity for ruts and miss its zest for rejuvenation. How so?

Our brain’s basal ganglia opens wonderful windows of solidarity and kindness toward others without judgment, every time we side-step judgement in favor of caring about people and about ourselves. Over time, it’s the reason some people tend to love humanity in spite of wrinkles, wrongs or weaknesses we all bring. Think of the basal ganglia as a built-in memory system that nudges us to act in previously stored ways.

When we reach for an object without much effort or step up stairs without having to think about each step, we can thank our basal ganglia’s built in memory for movement.  The opposite is also true, when we criticize others, for instance, we can also blame our basal ganglia’s stubborn resistance to remove that trait from our mental toolkit.  

BAS is my cartoon character with real basal ganglia parts. WM is my cartoon with real working memory parts.

While we still have much to learn, science is shedding light on how a basal ganglia can work for more mind-bending performances such as care and kindness.

In contrast to judgments all around us, choices to empathize and show compassion that we act on will mean we all store remarkable memories rather than horrific past judgments that cut us down.

Consider these few facts about our basal ganglia:

— It provides us with stored facts to succeed one day and locks us into rigid judgment ruts the next.

— It holds invaluable traditions of care with one move and shuts out rejuvenation with judgment the next.

— Its routines that add kindness reliability today, often prevent peak performance possibilities through unfair judgments tomorrow.

— It helps us to override fear with acceptance and love, but then creates fear from standstill stagnation in judgments it stores and generates.

— It can collaborate with working memory for growth in the long run, yet compete with judgments remembered in the short.

— It leaves us solid and predictable one day, and seemingly unable to improve our mercy responses the next.

— It offers us lifetime friendships on one hand, yet prevents new relationships because we judge harshly on the other.

— It leaves us as faithful colleague on one day, yet can render us inflexible and judgemental soon after.

— It maintains our mastery in care giving skills, and prevents us from learning caregiver skills needed to sidestep judgments.

Imagine a friendship without judgments and we see a trusted friend in both weakness and in strength.

While it offers us a level of comfort from the ease of stored familiarity, the brain’s basal ganglia is also a great hindrance to growth people crave and success requires. Remove it and we’ll likely take off for work naked, if you get there at all. Fall prey to it’s lack of change, and stored judgments,  and we may find ourselves locked into dangerous racism, sexism and other one-sided views or practices picked up over time, and without much reflection.

Check out this video for another look at our basal ganglia. Where are you today, in relation to our brain’s basil ganglia quick-to-forgive, or slow-to-judge stockpiles? What generosity today could lay down new neural connections for more genuine appreciation of those around us? Perhaps our leaders will notice and join in for a kinder direction forward.

You’ve likely concluded that the best escape hatch to judgment is to make more choices to care about others, in spite of their differences. If so, you are spot on! Each time we care genuinely about others, are kinder to ourselves or refuse fast judgments, we lay down new neural connections for more of the same. We then draw on these kinder, more caring responses to the next person or groups we encounter. The basal ganglia begins to work against judgment when it stockpiles blame’s opposites. It’s that simply stated, yet may be less simply executed if we’ve previously stored knee-jerk judgments or continue to justify blame.

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset