MBTI: Not Misleading, Just Misunderstood

Personality 1 Comment

In my previous post, I indicated that the MBTI personality types were misleading and that Carl Jung’s cognitive functions were the solution. After reading “Gifts Differing” by Isabel Briggs Myers, who created the MBTI instrument with her mother Katherine Cook Briggs, I realized that I had misunderstood. The cognitive functions theory that I learned is based upon Dr. Carl Jung’s book, “Psychological Types”, but includes enhancements and clarifications from Mrs. Myers and Mrs. Briggs. The MBTI instrument is the result of making Carl Jung’s cognitive functions theory relevant to and easy to understand by the average person. Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs built upon Carl Jung’s cognitive functions theory with two major contributions.

Crouching Extravert, Hidden Introvert

042GirlPetDragonFirst, for the average person, the dominant and auxiliary (secondary) cognitive functions must work together to balance each other out. Dr. Carl Jung concentrated on unbalanced personalities (especially introverts) where the dominant function was supreme and was not in balance with the auxiliary. He did not explore balanced types and only mentioned the auxiliary function in a few references without great detail. Myers and Briggs fleshed out the role of the auxiliary function.

To be balanced, if the dominant function is a judging function (Thinking or Feeling), then the auxiliary must be a perceiving function (Sensing or iNtuition) and vice versa. If the dominant function is extraverted, then the auxiliary must be introverted and vice versa. In effect, the auxiliary function is opposite to and balances the dominant function between judging and perceiving and between extroversion and introversion.

Second, the most visible personality trait seen by the outside world is the first extraverted function, which is used to interact with the exterior world. For extraverts, this is the dominant function. For introverts, this is the auxiliary function (because the dominant is introverted). Thus, introverts have a dominant function which is hidden, and people interact mainly with the introvert’s auxiliary function. This leads to confusion because someone who is viewed as perceiving by others may be an introverted judging dominant type. Likewise, someone who appears very judging to others may be an introverted perceiving dominant type.

When thinking of balanced types, each type has an inward-facing and an outward facing function, which could be any of the four perceiving and judging functions. For example, an INFP has an inward-facing introverted dominant Feeling function and an outward-facing extraverted auxiliary iNtuiton function. An ESTJ has an outward-facing extraverted dominant Thinking function and an inward-facing introverted auxiliary Sensing function. When one interacts with the INFP, one sees visible indications of the outward-facing iNtuition function (auxiliary) in how the INFP gets along with everyone. When one interacts with the ESTJ, one sees visible indications of the outward-facing Thinking function (dominant) in how the ESTJ takes time to think and talk through decisions.

Note: One can see how the MBTI instrument and cognitive functions are tied together by how the MBTI can be mapped to the cognitive functions. As we explored in the previous post, the cognitive functions theory does not treat the first E/I (Extroversion/Introversion) and last J/P (Judging/Perceiving) MBTI preferences as standalone functions. Instead, the E/I preference indicates the attitude (E/I orientation) of the dominant function and thus, the attitudes of the remaining functions. The J/P preference indicates the extraverted perceiving or judging function used to deal with the external world. For dominant extraverts (E), this is the dominant function. For dominant introverts (I), this is the auxiliary function.

When identifying personality types, the goal is to determine the dominant function. Unfortunately, this is difficult when dealing with introverts. The most visible function is outward-facing and can be dominant (for extraverted dominant types) or auxiliary (for introverted dominant types). For example, an ISTP has a visible external-facing Sensing function which is the ISTP’s auxiliary function. But for an ESTP which also has a visible external-facing Sensing function, it is the ESTP’s dominant function. To determine which is which, one must either spend a lot of time with the person or much faster, one could just ask the person questions to learn what their dominant function is. This is why the MBTI creators describe the instrument as a self-reporting tool.

What Type Am I Again?

Update: I may sound certain that I am an ENFP below, but I am not 100% sure. I am continually swinging between INFP and ENFP. When I wrote this post, I believed I was more on the ENFP side. In this update, I believe I am more INFP. Unfortunately, ambivalence may come with the MBTI territory.

Even as a self-reporting tool, it may be difficult for a person to accurately MBTI type himself. Case in point, I’ve recently realized that I am an ENFP, not an INFP. As I understood more about MBTI and cognitive functions, I’ve refined my type. (DaveSuperPowers has a video on this ENFP vs INFP confusion.) If we compare the cognitive functions for ENFP and INFP (see below), we see that the functions and attitudes are the same, but the order is different. For both types, I would use the same extraverted iNtuition function to interact with the external world, whether I was an extrovert or an introvert. Someone observing me would have a difficult time deciding which E/I type I was. Because ENFP is the most introverted of the extraverts, I had a hard time myself figuring out which side of the E/I divide I belonged to. When I’m alone, after a while, I want to be with people. When I’m with people, after a while, I want to be alone.


I think the view of the E/I preference as being how one gets energy is confusing. The theory is that an extravert would be energized by being with and interacting with people and an introvert would be energized by being alone. I don’t experience this at all. Instead, I believe that energy expenditure is a better indicator. Introverts are drained of their energy faster than normal when forced to interact with people (to extravert). An extreme introvert would reach energy exhaustion quickly. Likewise, extraverts are drained of their energy faster than normal when forced to be alone (to be introspective). In both cases, I believe that the introverts and extraverts are forced to use their auxiliary functions, which use up more energy than using their dominant functions would. Even as an extravert, when I’m with people who are boring and who don’t want to engage (in conversation or activity) with me, I do expend more energy to compensate and thus become exhausted faster.

Having said the above, there are scenarios where I feel that I’m not expending energy or even that I am gaining energy, but they are independent of the E/I preference. Zero energy expenditure can seem to occur when I am deeply concentrating on a task (I am in the flow) and hours pass without me getting tired. And I seem to gain energy when I am participating in an activity or interacting with people that I am very passionate about. I gain energy whether I’m doing an interesting solitary activity (Introversion) or partying with a bunch of closed friends (Extraversion).

The trick to identifying my type is what most books recommend to do, which is to recall how I was like when I was younger, preferably in high school and college. I believe that high school helps to solidify our dominant preferences which we then exhibit clearly in college. After college, when we join the workforce, we are forced to strengthen our auxiliary and lesser functions (even our shadow functions) to cope with work demands, coworkers, and bosses. As an ENFP, I have to thank my work experience for my strong ability to focus on the details (shadow Sensing function) and to bring projects to completion (shadow Judging function). With life experience and age, all our cognitive functions mature and we become very balanced. If I take an MBTI test and answer the questions based upon who I am now, the test would not provide a strong match to any particular MBTI type. I have to force myself to answer based upon who I was when I was young.

The second trick is to read self descriptions from other people by MBTI type to see which ones I most identify with. For this to work, the source of the self descriptions must be accurate. The source that I recommend is the book titled “The 16 Personality Types: Descriptions for Self-Discovery” by Linda V Berens. After reading the self descriptions for INFP and ENFP, I was surprised to find that I currently identified very strongly with ENFP and very weakly with INFP. To double-check, I recalled how I was in high school (where I was active in many clubs, often as an officer) and college (where I organized parties and dinners for other students and alumni). In the end, ENFP with its dominant extraverted iNtuition function seemed a more fitting match for me.

I feel that after a long journey, I have finally identified my MBTI type. However, at the same time, I realized that my MBTI type may no longer strongly identify the current me. My INTJ friend tells me that I am a disturbance to his system of identifying MBTI types because I behave in contradictory ways. I took that as a compliment and think that he truly enjoys trying to upgrade his system to account for my behavior. Dr. Carl Jung and Mrs. Isabel Briggs Myers briefly mentioned that eventually, with age and maturity, an individual may transcend their type. I don’t know what that would be like, but as an ENFP, I find it very intriguing. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Check out my continuing post on this topic, Judging vs Perceiving Dominant Types.

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I Can’t Scream Because My Jaws Are Wired Shut

Health 4 Comments

In April 2009, I had jaw surgery to correct an underbite (a type of malocclusion), which involved breaking both my jaws and moving them to new positions. It was my first major surgery and first overnight stay in a hospital as an adult. I ended up in the hospital for two nights. I thought I was prepared for the hospital, having researched what other jaw surgery patients went through and even talking to my friend, a nurse; but the reality was more horrific than the bad scenarios I had anticipated. Four years later, I feel comfortable enough to write about my experience. I wanted to share what happened and hopefully, to provide useful advice for those who might be facing an overnight hospital stay.

jaw_surgeryThe Good Samaritan Hospital is located in Los Gatos, California, an upscale community. The hospital costs were toward the high end so I assumed that the care provided would be excellent. I believed in the principle that you get what you pay for. In this case, it was the wrong assumption to make.

The Pain Scale

My nurse friend told me that the most important thing to know for a hospital stay after surgery is the pain scale. The pain scale is a subjective rating from 1 to 10 by the patient regarding the intensity of pain being felt. It serves as a means of communicating to the nurse how much and how soon pain medication is needed. He stressed that, at pain level 5 (still tolerable), I should be asking for pain medication because it may take up to 30 minutes before the medicine is provided. During that time, the pain level will rise to 6 or 7; at which point, the pain will be at the threshold of being bearable. His advice was spot on. Unfortunately, at this hospital, 30 minutes is extremely optimistic.

I noticed that the hospital hired a lot of nurse assistants, who served as first responders to a patient’s call. Unfortunately, most of them did not speak English well and worse, they did not seem to be trained because most didn’t know about the pain scale. After pushing the call button, I had to overcome these obstacles:

  1. Someone will ask over the telecom, “What do you want?” Because my jaw was wired shut, I couldn’t answer. I kept pushing the button. Sometimes, my roommate would shout, “He can’t speak!”
  2. Eventually, after 10 to 30 and sometimes up to 45 minutes, a nurse assistant is sent to check up on me.
  3. The nurse assistant would look at me cluelessly while I tried to pantomime the pain level with my fingers. I only recalled one nurse assistant who understood my hand signals about the pain level. The rest acted as if they had no concept of the pain system. Later on, after I managed to get a piece of paper and pen, most of them couldn’t understand because besides not speaking English well, they couldn’t read it either. I tried underscoring and circling the pain number vehemently but again, because most of them had no knowledge of the pain system, they couldn’t understand.
  4. Once the nurse assistant gave up and left for help (I hoped), or was scared off by my roommate who would shout, “He’s in pain!” Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t understand what he said either. In two instances, the same nurse assistant guy came, left, and basically ignored my requests, and I had to suffer to the next nurse assistant on duty for relief.
  5. After another 10 to 20 minutes, an English speaking nurse practitioner or a registered nurse would show up. The first words were “What do you want?” And because I could not respond, that phrase was repeated in a louder voice with more irritation. Eventually my roommate would come to the rescue and say, “He can’t talk!” Near the end, after having to intervene on my behavior for more than half a dozen times throughout the night, he asked, “God damn it, what the hell is going on?”
  6. After the nurse understood that I needed pain medicine, if she was nice, she would tell me that she needed to get the one nurse in the entire hospital that was able or allowed to give pain medicine (my educated guess). If she was not so nice, she would just leave without saying anything. This would entail waiting another 10-20 minutes (in the hopes that they understood my need) and in one case, a long one hour wait; toward the end of which time I was in total agony.
  7. Finally, a nurse would come and give me the pain medicine. She was invariably the nicest sounding nurse, but maybe that’s because she dispenses the narcotics directly into my bloodstream. Miserably, it takes about another 5-10 minutes before the pain relief occurs after the injection.

So, the 30 minutes delay is the most optimistic and the best wait time. The longest was almost one and a half hours. The average was around 45 minutes to 1 hour. Within an hour, my pain level has increased by one or two levels. Over an hour and I was writhing in pain. I now understand what it feels like when pain gets to the level that you basically live in and for pain. Your own consciousness wraps around pain and the pain consumes your very being. That’s all you can feel and all you can think about. It’s hell.

I never got my roommate’s name but I am so thankful that he was present and able to voice my frustration. I never got to apologize for being the cause of his sleep interruptions. My frustration was captured by the phrase which he kept repeating at the end and which I repeated in my mind, “God damn it, what the hell is going on?”

Well, What the Hell Was Going On?

52HomerScreamingWhy were there so many nurse assistants, why didn’t they at least speak English, and why did they seem so untrained? During the first night, I remember encountering six of them (if not more). Likewise, I would encounter the same number of nurses, never seeing the same one twice. Were their shifts so short? Why didn’t they leave a note for each other saying I couldn’t talk? Why did they treat me as if I was intruding and making inconvenience demands? Why is it that as a patient, besides fighting the pain, I needed to battle for my own care?

It wasn’t just the pain medicines. It also took a lot of effort to get the ice packs. I read that I needed to ice the first 24 hours to keep the swelling and inflammation down when the body is in overdrive to address the massive injury. Then later I can switch to a hot pack to encourage blood flow and faster healing once the body is settled down. Because of the communication barrier (I couldn’t talk and the nurse assistants couldn’t understand spoken or written English), it was a struggle to get ice packs. And when I did manage to successfully communicate my needs, I was given one or two small ice packs, totally inadequate, which I had to apply myself. I remember only one instance when a registered nurse got me the long, large ice packs and wrapped them around my jaw. Eventually, I gave up and stopped asking for ice… it took too much effort.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m blaming the nurse and nurse assistants. After thinking about it, I realized that the problem is systemic and the nurses represent just the tip of a dysfunctional iceberg. It starts with the governmental regulations that are meant to protect the patient but create bureaucracies in the hospitals as a side effect; the health insurance industry, high health costs, and mandatory emergency care for the uninsured that force hospitals to cut costs by hiring a larger proportion of cheap, unskilled nurse assistants; the prevalence of malpractice lawsuits that increase insurance costs and adds additional bureaucratic paperwork; and the cost cutting that results in understaffed, overworked and burned out nurses. If we include office politics, drama, and the natural progression towards mediocrity that can be expected to exist in any human organization, we end up with quite a tangled mess.

I talked to my friend, the nurse, and he confirmed that the problem is systemic to the hospital, the administration, the hospital workers (including the nurses), and the bureaucracy necessary to meet all the regulations and to defend against lawsuits. He agrees that this applies to the government and health insurance companies and goes further to say that society itself is part of the problem. Everything results in a dysfunctional organization that barely meets the cares of its patients with of course, an often conflicting focus on making a profit.

Nurses are understaffed and thus, end up overwhelmed with work. As an example, he states that in one hospital, he had to do a mandatory round of all patients every 15 minutes, while having to do physical checkups, paperwork, and ensuring that the medication schedules were being met (the types of medication and schedule were different for each patient). Imagine doing this for a dozen or more patients and then having to do admission for a new patient (or even two). Most days, he can only spare 5 minutes to consume his lunch.

Worse, the nurses who start out caring about the patients and working hard are often rewarded with more work until they burned out or leave. Once they burned out, they just don’t care as much and just try to get by. My friend is efficient and uses his skills to find ways to do things faster in order to handle the load. As a reward at a previous hospital, he was asked regularly to take care of triple the number of patients per shift as other nurses, with the same pay. Adding to his workload, patients were waiting for him to begin his shift so they could report issues and injuries because they didn’t like dealing with the other nurses. His coworkers told him, “Don’t work so hard. You’re making us look bad.” Eventually, he had to quit.

It’s Not a New Problem!

I thought that my health care experience was a recent phenomenon, but it isn’t. I read a book titled “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kuler-Ross M.D., and in that book, there was a patient referred to as “Sister I” who experienced the same problems. She said that the nurses seemed insensitive to pain; their response time was 30-45 minutes; and the nurses were cold and did not want to engage or do their job. So she set about forcing the nurses to do their job. Below are some quotes from Sister I.

  • “I think someday if I ever started bleeding or going into shock it would be the cleaning lady that finds me, not the staff.”
  • “And part of my making rounds with the patients in the past years was really to find out how ill they were and then I would stand in front of that desk and say So-and-So needs something for her pain and just waited a half hour…”
  • “I thought it was typical of certain floors because the same group of nurses is on. It’s something in us, that we just don’t seem to respect pain anymore.”
  • “I think they are busy. I hope that’s what they are. But I have walked and seen them talking there and then see them go on breaks. And it makes me furious. When the nurse goes on a break and the aide comes back and tells you that the nurse is downstairs with the key [to the medicine cabinet] and you have to wait. When that person wanted to have her medication even before that nurse went down for her meal.”
  • ”And I think there should be somebody in charge of that floor that could come and give you the pain medicine, that you shouldn’t have to sweat through another half hour before anybody comes up. And sometimes it’s forty-five minutes before they come up. And they certainly aren’t going to take care of you first. They are going to answer the phone and look at the new hours, and new orders that the doctors left. They are not going to do this the first thing, find if somebody asked for pain medication.”

That book was published in 1969. I think that if one is dying from a disease, the pain felt must be orders of magnitude greater that what I experienced. I can’t even begin to imagine how unbearable it could be. It’s depressing and horrible to think that this has been going on since at least 1969, before I was even born yet.

Thank God I’m Healthy

Thank goodness that morphine makes me very sleepy. I was able to sleep through most of my stay at the hospital and I think that sleep spared me a lot of problems by reducing my need for pain medication (and the trials of trying to get the medicine).

After that nightmare experience, I am so grateful every day that I am in good health, and that my family and friends are also in good health. Nowadays, I try to exercise regularly and eat healthy (everything in moderation). I avoid taking crazy risks that might result in major physical injuries. I realize that I don’t fear death at much as I used to; I just fear debilitating and painful long-term injuries.

If I should ever be in a hospital again, hopefully I can think clearly and speak so I can be my own patient advocate. And if I can’t, I hope to have someone beside me who can take that role for me and battle the system for the care that I would need. Ultimately, in and out of hospitals, you are the only one responsible for your own care.


California E-File For Free

Money No Comments

I use TurboTax to do my federal and California state income taxes. When e-file first became available, I remember having to pay a “convenience” fee of $15 each (for a total of $30). It seemed strange to me that I had to pay to save the federal and state government money; they didn’t have to hire someone to input my printed tax forms after all. Thankfully, a few years ago, the IRS finally realized this and made federal e-file free. Unfortunately, the state e-file for TurboTax has always required a fee, which has increased to $19.99 this year.


UncleSamMagooInitially I blamed California for the state e-file fee; but last year, I found that California did provide several options to e-file for free and that I qualified for CalFile. The $19.99 fee is actually imposed by Intuit as a service fee. CalFile is a web-based application that allows you to fill in and submit an online Schedule CA 540 state income tax form to the California Franchise Tax Board. Because I had the California 540 form completed in TurboTax, all I did was to copy the total amounts from TurboTax into the CalFile web forms (which referred to amounts on the state 540 and federal 1040 forms by line numbers).

CalFile is totally free and easy to use. If your taxes are simple and you make less than $169,000 if single (or higher amounts if head of household or married), you can use CalFile. Check the CalFile qualifications. This year, you are required to create an account to use CalFile; however, both the CalFile Deluxe and Basic account types are free. An account allows you to quit and continue your online 540 form at a later time.

If you are doing state income tax for another state than California, I suggest going to your state’s website to see if there are free e-file options available.


While we are on the subject of income taxes, when doing an itemized federal income tax return, you are allowed to deduct mandatory state fees in addition to the state income tax. Such a mandatory state fee is the California State Disability Insurance, which appears on the W2 form as “CA SDI”. If you work in California, this state-administered disability insurance premium is automatically deducted from your paycheck and totals to around $1000 a year. On the federal income tax return, this mandatory fee is considered a state tax and thus is deductible.

Until a couple years ago, TurboTax did not deduct the CA SDI in my itemized federal 1040 form, even when I explicitly inputted it as part of the W2 form. I had to manually work around TurboTax’s limitation by changing the deduction amount in the 1040 Schedule A form (line 5, “State and local Income taxes”). The latest version of TurboTax will recognize the CA SDI input on the W2 form, tag it as a “CA SDI” type, and deduct it properly on the Schedule A form.

In California, as an alternative to CA SDI, employers have the option to administer their own disability insurance plans, which must provide equivalent benefits as the CA SDI plan does. This is called the California Voluntary Plan Disability Insurance, which appears on your W2 as “CA VPDI” or CAVPDI. Because the costs of the plan, including administration and any employee subsidies, are considered a deductible business expense, some companies may decide to go with a CA VPDI after running the numbers and finding out that they could get a net gain.

When the CA VPDI first appeared, it was unclear as to whether or not an employee can deduct the CA VPDI on the federal income tax return. It is a mandatory fee indirectly mandated by the state after all. And from what I heard, the IRS did not correct the forms submitted by those who treated the CA VPDI the same as a deductible CA SDI. Unfortunately, the IRS eventually decided that the CA VPDI was not deductible by employees in the IRS Rev. Rul 81-194 ruling, which stated:

“Amounts withheld from wages of employees for contributions to voluntary plans are nondeductible personal expenses under section 262 and are not deductible as taxes, business expenses, or medical expenses.”

This IRS ruling is not a big surprise. This decision resulted in more tax revenue for the federal government, so it was actually a no-brainer decision. California followed suit by issuing an update to the Schedule CA 540 instructions to omit wording which suggested that the CA VPDI was deductible on the federal income tax reform.

So, just remember that you can deduct CA SDI, but you can’t deduct CA VPDI. The latest version of TurboTax will recognize the CA VPDI on the W2 form as a “CA VPDI” type and won’t deduct it in the 1040 Schedule A form.

Just in case, don’t forget that you can deduct your car’s vehicle license fee, which is a part of the yearly DMV vehicle registration. The vehicle license fee amount can be found in the itemized costs on the DMV vehicle registration renewal form that you get each year. It is a mandatory state fee and can be deducted on your federal income tax return.

Free Tax Software

I suggest filing your income taxes late so that you can borrow the TurboTax software CD (preferably, the version that includes one free state) from your family or friends once they are done with it. This will save you the cost of purchasing TurboTax, which varies from $40 and up. Alternatively, the online version of TurboTax provides free federal filing, but requires an additional $27.99 for a state filing.

I believe that the above information still applies if you use other tax software, like TaxCut.

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Who Are We to Blindly Judge?

Self 1 Comment

When I was very young, in elementary school, there was a celebratory event with cookies and punch. I remember taking extra cookies. As I was wrapping them up in a napkin, I looked up to see my teacher, whom I liked and respected. She had a cold, frozen face on and I could see the blistering stare of disapproval that she was attempting to suppress. Shamed-face, I turned away.

045GirlCryingAs I think back, I realized that it was worse that she didn’t ask me why I was taking extra cookies. I would have answered that I was saving them for my younger sisters. We were recent immigrants and didn’t get the luxury of cookies so often. But she didn’t. Instead, she made a quick judgment. And though she tried to hide her disapproval, I was able to sense it and be affected by it. I reacted with feelings of shame.

I am not making out my teacher to be some sort of horrible person. She isn’t. What she did was what many adults would do almost unconsciously in the same situations. I’ve done it. You’ve also done it. We’ve done it to other adults and to children. In the greater scheme, this is how I imagine cultural mores and social conduct are trained into children and enforced in adults.

As a sensitive child, I reacted in two ways. First, I learned to inhibit my own actions by imagining what others would think of them beforehand. Second, I made a vow to not judge others in any way. The first was a bad decision to follow in extreme and turned me into a “nice” person; which turned out to not be a very nice thing to do at all. The second, I’ve often failed at and it remains to be seen whether in the end, it is a bad or good decision. I think good and I will try to convince you so.

Why Judging Can Be So Wrong

I have two problems with judging. The first problem is that we judge the motivations of others. We say they did something because they thought or felt a certain way. Can we truly know what someone is thinking or feeling? Even if they tell us, we can’t be sure that they are not liars or that they don’t even know themselves. Most likely, they will tell us rationalizations and justifications that make them appear in the best light.

We are worse when we ascribe negative motivations like hatred to behavior. Supposed a neighbor invited you to her party. At the party, she doesn’t talk to you at all beyond a quick hello and you observe her talking to and laughing with others. You think, she doesn’t talk to me much because she doesn’t like me. But maybe, she was busy being the host and taking care of those whom she thought needed her the most. And she thought that you could take care of yourself and do the mingling on your own. She made a judgment and so did you.

The second problem is that we judge the actions of others. Have you hear the saying, don’t judge people, judge their actions? Well, it can be wrong. Some folks perform what can be considered bad actions for all the right reasons. Others can perform what can be considered good actions for all the wrong reasons. Can you tell which is which? Can you tell if it is neither? I can’t.

Take the over-used example of a person stealing food. Stealing is a bad action. What if their children are starving? The action is still bad, but we wouldn’t judge them as bad persons.

There are some actions that are so detrimental to society, like the killing of another, that judgment must be made and punishment mete out. Laws are enacted to enforce such cases. If you break the law, the fact remains that you broke the law, regardless of your reasons. But it’s not universal. You have civil law for murder (illegal killing). You have military law and international conventions governing war conduct to put limits on the amount of condoned killing by soldiers. Even more unclear, different societies have different ideas of what is illegal and what punishments are appropriate.

The Judging Paradox

Unfortunately, we humans have evolved to judge. We quickly judge if a situation or another person is dangerous or not. We decide to fight or flee. The decision is then automatically applied to future situations that are similar. It is a shortcut for our brains. In the past, when survival was more difficult, it saved our lives and the lives of our families and community countless times. In the present and future, it may cause more problems than it solves.

009ManMirrorI am not advocating getting rid of quick, automated judgments and decisions. If we had to think carefully when responding to each and every event that occurs, we would be so busy that we couldn’t think or do anything new. It is okay to have automated reactions, but the downside is that such reactions may not be appropriate and may even be damaging.

What I suggest we do is to become more conscious of when we may be blindly judging and to re-examine some of our decisions. For when we judge others, does the judgment not reflect on ourselves also?

Reframe, Reframe, And Keep Reframing

The best scenario is not to judge at all. We can try but it’s such a part of our human makeup that it would be impossible to do so all the time. When we have to judge, let us always ascribe the best motivations for actions that we can think of. More than likely, we will be wrong. But if we are going to be wrong, we might as well be wrong in the right way. Or at least, in a way which makes us feel good and helps us to react with our best selves.

I call the above method, to reframe. Our initial judgments will be driven by our emotions and we will reach the most negative conclusion about another’s intentions. We have to catch that initial judgment and reframe it by changing the conclusion to a positive one. For example, you are driving down the freeway and a car cuts in front of you. Heart beating, adrenaline pumping, and furious, you think, what a jerk, he’s doing it on purpose to piss me off, and I’m going to cut him off for revenge.

Quick, do a reframe! Force yourself to think, gosh, his wife’s pregnant, they need to get to the hospital, he’s unsettled and forgot to check his blind spot, and I had better back off because I don’t want to cause an accident on this most auspicious day. Calmed down and with a smile on your face, you immediately hit the brakes with great eagerness… and the car behind you rear-ends your car.

Ugh, ignore the last part. You get the idea. Reframe, reframe, and keep reframing until it becomes a habit. The trick is to catch yourself in the act of making a negative judgment and then to quickly reframe that judgment to a positive one. You will need to monitor your thoughts and feelings to do so. Check out my previous blog about monitoring and accepting thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes, another person’s action will affect you so strongly that you will not want to reframe. We can’t be saints all the time. To handle that, you will first need to acknowledge strongly how that action affects you emotionally, before doing a reframe. Doing so will defuse the negative emotion enough for you to do a reframe, which will then handle the remaining negative energy.

Going back to my earlier example of the party, you feel ignored or slighted because the neighbor did not spend much time talking to you. Express how that action affected you, “I am pissed off that she invited me and now is ignoring me. This is an insult!” Keep expressing how hurt you are until you can do a reframe. I like to think that we can always judge that the action is hurtful to us, but not that the person is a hurtful person.

In the End

With practice, over time, we will become less likely to judge others. We will be more likely to withhold our judgment and opinions. After all, isn’t being judgmental a lot of work? Evolution is not the best at reducing work. It just optimizes what is already there (judging) that works well enough. The more evolved method is to eliminate the work. Judging is extra work we don’t need.

Try your best to avoid judging people because we humans are so complex and messed up, that to get an accurate judgment of a person is beyond our abilities. If you catch yourself judging negatively, do a reframe. Don’t forget that this advice also applies to judging yourself. Treat yourself as well as you treat others. As Mother Teresa said, “… in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

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