Eighty-seven percent of unchurched millennials perceive Christians to be judgmental, and 70% view them as insensitive to others. Yet, the church often prides itself on being a welcoming place for believers and nonbelievers alike. Where does this disconnect come from? Judgmental mindsets — on both sides. By making assumptions and placing labels on one another, the human race has created major divides between all kinds of people groups.
Luckily, a more accepting and tolerant existence is possible, but it all starts with fostering a less judgmental mindset. If Jesus can accept everyone — no strings attached — so can you.
1. Meet New People
According to a 2013 poll, nearly 40% of white Americans surround themselves with friends of the same race. Many gravitate to people who share the same culture, beliefs, interests, and experiences, too. Why? Because befriending people similar to yourself confirms existing beliefs and ideas, which is both comforting and damaging. The less diverse your friend group is, the more likely you are to make generalizations and perpetuate fears and stereotypes about other racial and ethnic groups.
Reject this harmful homophily and expand your social circle to include individuals of all different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and walks of life. Attend local cultural events or use a chat room to connect with people from all over the world. The more you diversify your friend group, the less judgmental you’ll be.
2. Experience Different Cultures
Befriending others online is a great way to break cultural barriers and eliminate confirmation bias. However, gaining first-hand experience is the most effective way to foster a less judgmental mindset. Immerse yourself in a different culture by traveling to another part of the country or even taking a trip overseas. Keep an open mind and recognize that you’re a minority during your travels, which means you have a lot to learn.
Try traditional foods, learn a bit of the language, and make an effort to connect with locals. As you become more familiar with the historically unfamiliar, your experiences will challenge everything you thought you knew about certain cultures and people groups. In turn, you’ll become less judgmental and more understanding of how they live and interact — regardless of whether you agree with them or share their interests.
3. Ask Curious Questions
It’s practically human nature to make judgments and evaluations based on your first impression of someone. Yet, first impressions are often deceiving and can result in inaccurate and negative mental depictions of others. Maybe you assume they’re just like you or maybe you perceive them to be completely different. Either way, these perceptions can prevent you from connecting with and accepting others for who they are.
Thus, it’s not enough to simply meet new people or experience different cultures. Rather, you must get to know them on a deeper level by asking curious questions. Build more meaningful relationships by inquiring about their job, family, or childhood. Refrain from trying to label or convert them and focus on communicating instead. Being an active listener will help you avoid first impression syndrome and cultivate a more welcoming and accepting attitude towards everyone.
4. Depersonalize Disagreements
Many people avoid engaging in potentially difficult conversations because they often cause disagreements. However, changing the subject — or sidestepping it altogether — doesn’t foster a less judgmental mindset. If anything, it creates a deeper divide between you and those who think differently than you.
Luckily, there is a more progressive and effective approach: conversational receptiveness. This technique requires both parties to communicate their willingness to engage with each other’s views and beliefs. Try to separate your emotions from the topic of discussion and work towards a better understanding of one another instead. Depersonalizing the disagreement in such a way will allow you to find points of agreement or at least a general respect for personal perspectives.
5. Give People the Benefit of the Doubt
God commands us to love and forgive one another but, all too often, we pass judgment on those who wrong us — whether they did so intentionally or not. Whether someone cut you off in traffic or stole your lunch from the breakroom, it’s easy to assume they’re an inherently wicked person with awful motives. Even if your assumptions are true, they’re still judgmental.
Choose to give others the benefit of the doubt instead. Replace negative judgments with positive ones and you’ll soon see that, according to St. Aquinas, humans were designed to do good; they just have bad days every now and then. Granting your fellow humans some grace will help you be a more tolerant and accepting person, even to those who don’t extend the same kindness towards you.
It Starts With You
In 2 Corinthians, Paul advises the church to take every thought captive, and this includes any judgmental thoughts you might have about yourself. Self-criticism fuels a tendency to judge others because people often project their feelings onto others. Therefore, becoming a less judgmental person begins with you.
Become more aware of your thoughts and accept yourself. Only then will you be able to extend that tolerance and respect to those around you.