Hall of Mirrors


Remember the Hall of Mirrors you found at circuses or carnivals? When you stood in front of a mirror, there was another one directly behind you, and the combination caused a kind of from-here-to-infinity-and-beyond reflection effect.

At some point, it was hard to discern which image was you and which image was simply a reflection of you, and then, ultimately, which images were reflections of the reflections of the reflections.

Do you remember those? I do. And they were dizzying.

Just as our judgments of other people are also dizzying.

When did you last have a judgmental thought about someone? Maybe it was about how outgoing they were. Or how shy. Or the items in their grocery cart. Perhaps it was the homeless person in the park. Maybe it was about how someone dresses. Or who they date. It can be anything.

We all do it.

We judge.

Judgment can be either a positive or a negative perspective, and what we have an opinion about is actually reflected at us according to our viewpoint.

Our personal background is wrapped up in that reflection, along with our culture, beliefs, values, and sometimes even just what is most familiar and comfortable to us.

We can’t really help it; we can only view the world through the lens of our own experience. And so the work is to continually widen our view.

Most often, the things we see that trigger a judgment are things which either make us feel better about ourselves or make us feel uncomfortable within ourselves. 

So if you are reading this and thinking, Oh this isn’t for me. I am free of judgment – keep reading. Because, again, I say to you: We all do it. Even if just inside our heads.

Why and How We Judge

You see, as humans, we are strongly attached to categorizing and comparing. We have a driving need to distinguish what we perceive to be good or bad. It is wired in our DNA to do so, and it’s what helped us survive as a species.

But here is the reality…

Are you ready?

The common denominator in every judgment you make is you. You are the only one who is consistently present. So no matter how much you believe judgments are about the other person, they are actually, simply, reflections back to you, about you.

Think again on that Hall of Mirrors experience…

Visualize yourself standing in front of a mirror with another mirror behind you. When you look down, you see yourself – your real self, not a mirrored reflection. Now, look directly ahead of you to see yourself reflected. Then, in that reflection, find the mirror that’s behind you. Do you see yourself again? Now in the mirror in front of you, in the reflection of the mirror behind you, see the mirror in front of you again. You can go on and on like that forever, at a dizzying rate.

Judgment is the same. You see something in someone, and you have a thought about it. Maybe it is a positive thought about something you admire. Something you actually desire to see reflected in yourself. Isn’t that a gift? You are experiencing an attraction to what that person is projecting, and you would like to bring it into your own reflection. Make a note of that. Jot it down. Become curious. Explore how to create for yourself, in your own reflection, the components you like about it.

Now is the tricky part: When you catch yourself having a negative judgmental thought about someone.

Perhaps it is the snappy associate who just got hired. They are faster with technology than you are. Or maybe they have an area of expertise that you haven’t had a desire to delve into. Or maybe their hopeful outlook, fresh perspective, and perky smile are just driving you nuts, and you secretly can’t wait until the reality of the thankless grind dampens their spirit.

And you hear yourself saying, “I just can’t stand these snappy, perky, fresh-out-of-college kids. They come in here like they own the place. I was never like that. I showed respect.”

Ever had a similar thought?

Here’s my question for you: What within that scenario is actually reflecting something back to you that you need to know about yourself?

It could be that you are getting really burnt out.

Maybe you are ready for a change.

Maybe it is time to expand your learning and update your skills.

Or is it time to evaluate how you begin to show yourself more respect?

Learning from Our Judgments

You see, judgment is our greatest teacher. Embracing and sitting with our judgments and using them as data for self-exploration are the keys to increasing our social and emotional intelligence quotients.

If you’ve read any of my books or attended any of my Navigating Challenging Dialogue® workshops, you know what I say over and over again: The only person you can change is yourself.

Grace is in the space that we give ourselves to be reflective, and every person you meet serves as a messenger, providing data and information you can utilize to increase your emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, author and co-chair of Rutgers University’s Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, tells us that people with high levels of emotional intelligence are those who have a deep understanding of their own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. This self-awareness is built, in part, from resisting the urge to target others with our judgment and, instead, explore thought as an opportunity to gain insight and understanding about our self.

The next time you find yourself with a judgmental thought about another person, whether it’s positive or negative – breathe. Hold that thought.

And ask yourself, Hmmm … What information is in this thought about how I feel, what I desire, or what I value? And what do I most need to learn about next? How does knowing this information help me to grow?

Because remember: Judgment is just another hall of mirrors.