The last of the yamas is aprigraha: non-grasping or letting go. There are so many ways to approach this yama, one of which is letting go of our judgments about others-something not easily done given our brains' desire to categorize things.
Our brains want to make things simple and keep us safe. They take information, look for patterns, make inferences, lock in information and make certain things automatic. This is a very useful thing in many ways. It means that every time we get in our car is not like the first time. We don’t have to think: “First I click in the belt. Then I turn the key. Then I check my mirror”, etc. We are on a kind of autopilot. We drive and make split-second decisions without needing to dwell on each step.
This kind of automated thinking can also enter into our interactions with people. This is not always a bad thing. If someone runs up to you brandishing a weapon, it is best to assume that they mean you harm and to get away. Not much thinking needed there. However, there are times when this automated thinking can lead to us make unfair judgments about people based on the way they dress, their race, their gender, their age, etc. These judgments may come from societal influences or from previous interactions.
To use a somewhat light example, there was a girl in my grade 5 class-we will call her "Candice"-who tormented me. Since that time, my brain has made an unfair connection between the name Candice and this nasty behaviour. Every time I have met someone named Candice, I have had to fight my urge to think of them as a bully. Fortunately, I have met some lovely people named Candice over the years, and I have begun to let go of my negative association with this name.
This is a pretty silly example because it is so clearly illogical. However, there are other judgments and assumptions about others that we may not find so easy to dismiss, maybe because they have been drilled into us from childhood or because they seem to be widely shared and disseminated by others or because a particularly profound past experience created a powerful association that is hard to let go of.
If we have a preconceived idea about who people they are or how they are going to behave, we have closed ourselves off from seeing the reality of the situation. We may decide not to speak to someone at all based on a negative assessment. We may decide that we know what kind of person someone is and not really listen to them. We may approach someone with a negative attitude that is not warranted. Conversely, we may make a positive assessment that is not warranted and ignore bad behaviour.
Trying to remain open minded about someone is often even more difficult when we know them (or think we do). Every time my kids say “Mom” in a particular tone of voice, I cringe and answer them angrily. I have prejudged what is going to come next. To be fair, most of the time when they use that tone, they do ask me something annoying, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are asking me to do something nice like go for a walk or tuck them in, and I ruin it through my assumptions and unwarranted reaction.
If you would like to work with the idea of aprigraha, I would encourage you to start noting the judgments and assumptions you make about people. Notice when you have already decided what someone is like or what they are going to say or how they are going to react to something. Then see if you can let that assumption go and be open to whatever does happen. While you may find that some of your assumptions were correct, often enough they won’t be, and you will be able to have a more genuine and interesting interactions with people when you remain curious and open.