"Be curious, not judgmental."
I'm speeding through town trying to get to the bank where I work. I have a bottle of Coke in my right hand while I simultaneously hold my gas station cheeseburger and the steering wheel with my left hand. I had to talk to my professor after class and now I'm running late. In addition to my full course load, I work close to full time. Those hours, though, include evenings, Saturdays, and whenever I can squeeze in a shift in between classes.
Two years later I find myself in a job with "normal" hours. That is, I have evenings and weekends off, and I have vacation time. On this particular day, I took the day off to get some errands done. I see a lot of people outside walking around. I go to a couple of stores and there are a lot of people there.
I see all these people, shopping, running, and playing around outside and my automatic thought is, "why aren't these people at work?"
Apparently, I adapted to my new life pretty quickly. Further, I thought that since this is what I do now, everyone should be like me. Those who aren't like me obviously have something wrong with them because they don't share my values.
Did it occur to me that perhaps they work nights? Did it occur to me that they may work weekends so this could very well be a day off? Surely it occurred to me that they could be in my exact same boat; taking a day off to get some stuff done.
I was judgmental. As a result, I wasn't in a good mood. Luckily I didn't voice my concerns to anyone to their face so they didn't have to suffer. But the fact remains that I spent my time and energy in a wasteful way.
Money is Stressful
You probably already know this; money is stressful. It's stressful to have to make it. It's stressful to think about planning for the future. It's stressful to think about trying to make more of it. It's stressful to think about it being taken away from us. And so on.
A majority of Americans rate money as being their top source of stress. Think of the few people who didn't rate money as their top source; what do you think their second top source of stress is?
Now think about the reasons people who didn't rate money as their top source of stress would give. Work, family, health, housing, nutrition, life changes, and so on. Every one of these potential sources of stress has a money component. Money touches every area of our lives.
What's worse is that we're often unaware that others feel the same as we do.
Money is Taboo
Money is a taboo topic in our culture. People seem to be more willing to talk about their weird health issues than talk about how they are going to pay for the treatment. Most of the reason is because of judgments. As soon as we open our mouths and start talking about money we open ourselves up to judgment. If someone has more than us, and we feel small. If someone has less than us, we feel guilty. If someone talks about how much they have, we think they are bragging.
We don't want to talk about because often we are embarrassed about something we did or didn't do. It's not our fault, though. We aren't wired to make smart decisions with our money.
We're Not Wired for Money
Believe it or not, we're all a little weird when it comes to money. We're not wired for it. The primitive part of our brain, the part that makes most of our decisions, doesn't know what money is, nor understand the concept of it. To our ancestors, what counts as smart financial decisions today would have been disastrous for them. They wouldn't be able to comprehend saving something for later or trusting someone you've never met.
There's no equivalent to money in nature; money is a relatively new concept. Not using everything you have, giving money to someone (a bank, for example) you don't know and hoping to get it back in the future, or not doing something in an emergency (such as avoiding selling during a down market) would have gotten them kicked out of the tribe, at best.
People Don't Need to Be Judged
Judging others, that is, running their choices through our own values and disagreeing with them, is a gut reaction. Some call it a righting reflex. This is the automatic response we have when someone does something that we don't think they should be doing (or doesn't do something we think they should). It comes from a positive place, usually. We want to help. The problem is that not everyone has the same values, aspirations, philosophy, or culture. There's an old saying that unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life.
The other problem is that people who are struggling, and even most that aren't, already have enough self-judgment to go around. They don't need additional judgment from us.