We humans share a deep desire to look down on one another—to find fault, pass judgment, and in the process puff up our own egos. This tendency is so strong in us that we do it both individually and collectively: Each of us likes to look down on our neighbors, but we also like to join with our neighbors in looking down on everyone else—on the people who speak or pray differently, but also on the people who went to high school 10 miles away.
None of us is above this tendency. There’s even a sense in which I’m guilty of it now, as I sit and survey the frailty of my fellow human beings. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about it. Seeking to puff ourselves up by passing judgment is clearly only natural to us. But when we catch ourselves in the act, we should call to mind another deep truth about us. Namely …
The perverse little burst of pleasure we get from passing judgment on each other is no match for the transcendent joy we unleash by touching each other’s souls—by building friendships, creating connections, cultivating compassion and understanding. While the judgmental sort of pleasure consumes itself quickly, the connective, compassionate sort radiates outward toward eternity. And sometimes, in my experience, eternity answers.
Instead of a self-congratulatory burst of dopamine, it gives us back a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold in the darkness, a friend to celebrate with when life goes right. It has the power to replace rivals with allies, competitors with partners, enemies with companions for the hardships ahead. And there are always hardships ahead.
The life lesson here is simple: Whenever we’re tempted to look down, we also have the choice to look up; to try to see eye-to-eye and perhaps find something higher and better for us all. We can try to avoid the downward spiral of perpetual condescension and replace it with movement forward, onward, upward.
As I’ve told you before, making judgments is a crucial part of life. It’s important to learn to judge wisely, well, and, when necessary, unapologetically. It’s also important to recognize that looking down is ultimately no match for looking up. The former can do no more than lift your ego for a moment. The latter has the power to move the world.