A Stoic Response to Being Judged

It’s likely that today you’ll be judged in some form.

Other people will have their say on your actions.

It’s natural human behavior: we all rely on our reasoning skills, experience, and principles to determine whether we approve or disapprove of what others are doing.

That point is worth remembering when someone next passes judgment on you: everyone judges everyone else by their own standards.

For that reason, the judgment often says more about the judge.

“I can’t believe you did that” can be a thin mask for “I wouldn’t or couldn’t have done that”.

If you’re taking a risk to better yourself or committing to a more virtuous path, you may inadvertently expose someone else’s unwillingness to do the same.

When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.27

Instead of working to improve what they feel are their own shortcomings, some will seek to be dismissive of your attempts to grow.

Fortunately, that’s not your responsibility. It’s theirs.

But it’s not an excuse to resent them or even shame them for their attitude.

In these cases, it’s more apt to feel sympathy than anger toward the person intent on judging you.

Perhaps you can help them. Perhaps you can influence them to believe in their own capabilities.

At the very least, you should be tolerant of them because something bad, real or perceived, may be happening in their life and you would appreciate the same consideration if the tables were turned.

Enter people’s minds, and you’ll find the judges you’re so afraid of — and how judiciously they judge themselves.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 9.18

The Stoic virtues will often help you do things that many other people won’t.

Courage will help you speak up when other people remain quiet and face your fears while other people avoid theirs.

Temperance will help you reject excesses that other people readily indulge in and cut unnecessary commitments out of your life while other people allow themselves to become overwhelmed.

Wisdom will help you make decisions based on right reason while other people will only think about what benefits them and learn from your experiences while other people will continue to make the same mistakes.

Justice will help you treat everyone with kindness and respect, while other people change their behavior according to the status of the person they are interacting with.

The funny thing is that even when your actions have no impact on these “other people”, some of them will take it as a personal affront to them that you’re trying to improve your well-being.

You’re willing to look within and get to know yourself, whereas they’re not.

You’re willing to have difficult conversations with yourself in the name of self-improvement, whereas they’re not.

You’re willing to put in a little bit of daily effort to strive for something better, whereas they’re not.

The way they perceive it, your willingness amplifies their unwillingness.

The sad thing is that such people may live their whole lives without ever truly knowing themselves, simply because they couldn’t bring themselves to engage in self-reflection.

It’s not that we should feel superior about this—our philosophical efforts don’t give us the right to look down on anyone.

It just helps to know that if someone criticizes you for being more disciplined in your approach to life, it’s often because they’re struggling to do the same, not because they think you’re a bad person or want to harm you.

Again, it’s something the virtue of Justice helps us with: not caring about people’s opinions in these scenarios is fine, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about the people holding those opinions.

“Happiness for a human being” wrote Marcus Aurelius. “Lies in doing what’s proper to a human being. And what’s proper to a human being is benevolence to his own kind.”

Who knows, after their initial resistance, your critics may even come to find your consistent efforts inspiring and begin their own journey of self-discovery and improvement. What could be a better compliment than that?