I can recall several moments, somewhat vaguely, when was I feeling very surprised and even confused by the behavior of some people. If you consider the fact the every single person can only experience life through their own biased point of view, it’s not too difficult to see why people are often judgmental. What I’m interested in, however, is how societies become judgmental. How particular modes of behavior are accepted in some countries while looked down upon and frowned upon others. There is, without a doubt, a behavior relativism in play here. Every culture operates within specific norms that have been randomly, or perhaps not randomly, been created throughout a very large interval of time.
How or why these customs or accepted behaviors came about is an interesting question. I have seen some Asian people chew with their mouths wide open, creating a rather distracting sound. It’s very off putting for likely anyone who has been raised in a culture that particularly teaches against this kind of behavior. I did discover, however, that this way of eating was to signal feelings of satisfaction and appreciation for the food. It doesn’t really make it easier to tolerate, but it does ease the suspicion that you might have of the other person intentionally being rude.
While having a conversation with an Indian person, I was asked to explain something and while I did, I couldn’t help but notice he was nodding his head from side to side as if to signal disapproval. I was about to stop, but then quickly realized that it was his way of acknowledging what I was saying. It was the equivalent of nodding up and down. It was difficult for me to communicate to him while looking directly at his head movements without feeling slightly confused. Overcoming years of social conditioning can seem like an impossible task.
And this was about very mundane things, like chewing and acknowledging, and yet to my mind there was a very precise ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of doing these things. I wouldn’t consciously admit to it in that I wouldn’t acknowledge that the proper way to give someone a sign of approval would be to nod your head up and down, likewise, I wouldn’t say that the correct way to chew would be with your mouth closed. It is really all relevant, and most people know that. And yet, when actually faced with a situation that tested my tolerance, I realized that it wasn’t east at all to accept a completely opposite way of doing something.
This brings me to my thought about judgment. Fundamentally cultures, and as a result, people follow habits that are passed down to them by their preceding generations, and when exposed to new habits, they will feel the inclination to be judgmental. The reason is pretty simple. If you’ve been told that two plus two equals four is a truth, and then one day this assumption is challenged, you will likely get very agitated. Mathematical truths aren’t distinguishable from cultural truths, or moral truths in our mind. When we believe something to be the truth, no matter what it is, we will find it very difficult to denounce or suddenly undermine it.
This, in fact, must necessarily be true, otherwise, stubbornness could not possibly exist. The challenge then is to be aware of this fact, and force ourselves to distinguish between real truths and relative truths. If the effort is not consciously exerted, it would be easy to become judgmental and intolerant. Indeed, I would even suspect that people who are racist are mentally lazy, they are unwilling to exert that conscious effort for whatever reason. In other words, the smarter a person is, the more likely they are to challenge their initial impressions and the less likely they are to be racist.