Why a rush to judgment is unhelpful and bad for your health

The recent announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they wish to withdraw from their senior roles in the Royal Family has inevitably provoked a reaction in the press and on social media.

I noted (but was not surprised by) how willingly people rushed to voice their opinion about this situation.

It caused me to wonder about how many of our thoughts are judgments and opinions and not necessarily based on careful consideration of the available facts. Many of the statements that I have read and indeed my own opinions on the situations must be based on just personal perceptions and impressions because only those who are personally involved can know the facts.

We can define an opinion as ‘what seems to one to be probably true’; so it’s not something necessarily true, or based on a weighing up of the facts and carefully considered. But still, it seems that people are more than willing to express their opinions even when they cannot be in a position to know what they are talking about.

We are all entitled to our opinions of course, but expressing an opinion without being able to demonstrate the basis of that opinion seems unwise to me, particularly when the opinion is judgmental.

Like most people, I have lots of opinions about a variety of issues but recently I have been trying very hard not to rush to judgment and to check myself when I’m aware that a judgment has popped into my head.

One definition of judgment is ‘the comparing of ideas to find out the truth’, so I wonder how many of us can claim to really make a comparison of ideas before deciding what our opinion is?

This means exploring others’ beliefs and motivations, even those that we may ideologically disagree with; indeed, it’s on those occasions that I think we should make more of an effort.

Nowadays, we have the option to use social media to voice opinions. I think that can be problematic because it’s difficult to argue with one-line statements or just one piece of the argument that might indeed seem logical. Consequently, many of the so-called arguments that take place on social media are nothing of the sort, and mostly they are a stream of unsupported opinions.

As a result, I often see negative judgments made about the person, rather than about the views that the person expressed. Do we judge ourselves in the same way when we question our own views?

When we rush to judgment or fail to consider all the options, it limits our humanity because it separates us from each other and sometimes leads us to dehumanise others, and that can be unhelpful or even dangerous.

Worse still, when we get angry about opinions that are different from ours, we are possibly doing ourselves harm. Anger makes us produce stress hormones that can negatively affect our cardiovascular and digestive systems and reduce our natural immunity. It’s just not worth it, particularly as we may be reacting to false assumptions or pretences.

Recently, I have been reading the book ‘Mind-wise: How we Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want’ by psychologist Nicholas Epley. It led me to reflect on research indicating that mostly we cannot understand the workings of our own minds, why we think and act the way we do, never mind understand what others are thinking. Yes, we can make good guesses but we can’t know for sure, and we are naturally biased toward ‘I am right and you are wrong’.

As we get older, we are bound to experience more and more changes, some of which will challenge our deeply held beliefs and ways of doing things. This is particularly hard when it feels like what is being said is ‘you were wrong’. But change is often just a reaction to different needs or circumstances or is based on new information or evidence that we just didn’t have in the past; it’s not a judgment on what went on before. As an example, many of the practices I was taught in nursing school have since been found to be either ineffective or, in some cases, potentially harmful because we didn’t know any better!

Perhaps it’s time to reflect more on our judgments and actively seek to understand others’ opinions. For myself, I am working towards a more considered response to people and their opinions rather than just expressing my knee-jerk reactions as I usually would. That’s not easy and I often fail, but it’s a goal worth pursuing.