Choosing not to judge – a tribute to Elias Canetti

I have no idea how known the author Elias Canetti is in the English-speaking world, although he was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1981. Born in Bulgaria 1905, he moved to London as a child, later to Vienna, Zürich, Frankfurt and back to Vienna. 1938 he moved back to London, away from the Nazis, where he stayed until the 1970s. He then moved to Zürich, where he lived until his death in 1994. (For more details, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elias_Canetti)

Why am I mentioning him now? I came across his works during my study years, when I started reading his autobiography and later almost all of his books. In “Crowds and Power” a lot of his thoughts circle around the giving and receiving of orders and what these orders do to the people giving and the people receiving them. He also writes a lot about judgments. About how we are constantly judging people, how delivering these judgments can grow to become an addiction, giving us a feeling of control and power. And how unfair and unkind these judgements very often are.

I had not thought much about Canetti for the last years, but recently his ideas keep coming back to me, being reflected in my daily life. How relentless we judge over people, sometimes without knowing them at all. We think one look and one isolated situation give us enough insight to be able to decide what kind of person they are. We stick labels on people faster than we realise but we are not so ready to change them. These labels tend to stick there and it would need some major revelation to alter our minds.

But the feeling of control that one gets from this is not the type I really want to have. I try to find more control over myself, over my own little silly thoughts and worries and angers. So why do I still stick labels on people so quickly? It isn’t a nice habit.

So the choice of the month, you could say my January resolution, is to try to judge less. Be more gentle to people in my mind. When they annoy me, give them the benefit of doubt. There could be a valid reason for their behaviour. If they just cross my way and disappear, let it be. If I have to interact with them more often, try to keep an open mind about them. Maybe even try to find out who they really are. Who knows, I might be in for some surprises. 😉

(And thanks Elias Canetti, for reminding me.)