I was invited to join a book club recently, and the first book on our reading list was Spare, Prince Harry’s memoire. Before anyone had picked up the book there was outrage among some of the members, who refused to read it, to come to the first meeting even. The person who had chosen the book felt she had to justify her choice, stating it was a “guilty pleasure” something we knew we shouldn’t do but all secretly wanted to.

How have we got here? Analysis shows that Meghan gets twice as much negative press as she does positive and six times as much as Kate. It has been written that Harry and Meghan are the most unpopular and distrusted couple in modern history. Why do we vilify them? What are their crimes? All behaviour makes sense if you look at the context, the ‘behaviour’ in this case is our judgement, the ‘context’, our psychology. So maybe the question is, why do we NEED to vilify them?

Have you ever noticed a pattern in your tendency to complain, to criticise, to judge? Have you noticed how on some days things can go unnoticed but on another days those same thing irk you to your core? Maybe you have noticed that the things that trigger you, for others, run like water off a duck’s back. Or maybe you can be honest with yourself, acknowledge your surprise at the strength of your reaction, appreciate that it is disproportionate to the events that are unfolding in front of you?

Judgement, a behaviour we all engage in from time to time, serves a function. It temporarily elevates us above a situation, above others. It acts as a balm for the ego, allowing us momentarily to feel superior, above, better than, the situation and those in it. You will notice, if you care to, that the urge to judge, to criticism, is stronger when we feel less comfortable within ourselves, less sure of ourselves, our value, our purpose. Conversely, notice how, when things are going well for us, we can be so much more tolerant, forgiving, charitable even, to the plight of others.

On a deeper more personal Carl Jung the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves”. Jung was referring to a tendency in all of us to deny or supress everything unflattering about ourselves e.g., negative emotions, impulses, behaviours to protect our self-image. However, when we see these traits in others it provokes anxiety because we are reminded of what we subconsciously recognise within ourselves. A common cover for anxiety is anger or one of its iterations. As above, our reactions reflect our psychology and particularly the stronger ones, present an opportunity to develop greater self-knowledge if we afford ourselves it.

Broadening things back out, there is the common enemy effect. Social psychology studies of this phenomenon describe the tendency of groups to work together when they face a perceived opponent, although they otherwise have little in common. Instead of believing that bad things happen for no reason, common enemies give us a sense of control, allowing us to attribute bad things to a clear cause that can be understood contained and control. We are more susceptible to this effect when we feel vulnerable or insecure about ourselves and our position. Again, this behaviour reflects our individual psychology.

Contrary to popular opinion it is not the eyes that are the window to the soul but our behaviour. Our reactions are a reflection our personality and internal world. We are not objective or neutral observers of this world. We do not see the world as it is but as we see it, and this perception is heavily filtered through the lens or our egos, our minds, which have been conditioned by years of our own experiences. Focusing on others serves only to distract us from our real purpose, which is to understand ourselves, in the short term this can be painful, but it is the only path to the deeper peace, calm and happiness that we all seek.

The moral of this story, “The only way to live is to let others live” Mahatma Gandhi

A challenge

Read this book and retain your negative judgements on this topic.

References

https://www.thesap.org.uk/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/the-shadow/

https://lemmalab.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Sullivan_enemyship_JPSP-2010.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00182-022-00812-5

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