I hear this a lot, “I’m not judging you.” or “You shouldn’t judge people.” We could make a list several pages long of admonitions, excuses, and evasions using this concept. The plain truth is: we all judge others. It’s happening, at every intersection of human universes, every meeting, every moment of conscious interaction. To say that we don’t judge is a lie–and whether we’re just lying to others to save face and be popular or we’re lying to ourselves and hiding an aspect of our own humanity from ourselves, it strikes me that I’d like to come clean. I’m totally judging you. All the time. You should feel it, glaring from your computer screen right now–the judging, it’s pokey.
There’s a Big Difference
Judging is a natural part of being human. It’s linked in to our value system, our ethics, our concepts of beauty, how we perceive the human landscape. We judge, therefor, we are. To say that we don’t engage in this very basic activity in the privacy of our own minds is a brand of post-modern social hypocrisy. You have only to log into a social media site, stand in line at the grocery store, wait for a bus or a train in any city–the judging, it’s everywhere. You’re doing it. I’m doing it. That person you just judged is doing it, probably to you.
I think we have confused the concept of making assessments of value with the concept of punishment or, more appropriately, condemnation. This goes hand in hand with the misapprehension that anyone cares what we think or that our judgements have any place in the public forum. That lady doesn’t care if you don’t like her dress. That dude doesn’t give a shit if you think he looks like he was just released from prison. I don’t care if you don’t like what I have to say to you–I’m not saying it because I think you should listen, but because I want to share. If my words cut you, it’s because I believe an unflinching delivery of my feelings and thoughts is the highest form of respect in interpersonal interaction. I’m not being brutal for its own sake–usually. I’m handing you a king’s ransom of soulstuff. Sometimes, that may hurt you, but you’ll always know where you stand with me.
Bound By Common Values
People who share a value system often tend to band together. It’s what we chatty, thinking animals do. Catty women who enjoy making personal prognostications about an outsider female travel in packs, for example. You might say that it would be a much better world if we didn’t judge. In some ways, I can’t disagree with you. Bigotry is disgusting, wars of ideology and genocide for profit are heart-rending and horrible. But think about a world without the expression of values–and if you want the good ones, you have to know the bad ones go along with it. Even the statement of what is “good” or “bad” is a judgement, however accurate, sensible, or righteous that judgement may be.
That’s why I tell people that, yes, I will judge them, but I will rarely punish them for it. In the course of normal life–where people aren’t burning crosses in front yards or persecuting another group of people for the sake of an ideological difference, physical resources, or power–I’m going to assess you according to my internal structure of values, but I’m not going to cut you off at the knees verbally if you run counter to what I think of as “good.” I make no secret of my judging. You should never think that I’ll agree with you on the surface if I don’t actually agree with you. It’s the only way I know how to be honest in the way that matters most. I may tell you fish stories, but that’s a part and parcel of my spiritual calling–Storyteller. If I exaggerate details, it’s never intended to harm but to instruct. To be honest in my dealings with others, and honest about who or what I am, what I think, and how I will proceed with an interaction–this is the cleanest gift I can offer in a decidedly filthy, jumbled world.
Perhaps what I think is most important about this is, I don’t think judgment is a bad thing. It’s how we direct our own paths in life–how we determine where we live, what music we listen to, what foods we choose to eat, what ethics we pass on to the next generation. Judgements can be tools for positive change in the world. To be sure, in a world where many people refuse to acknowledge that they do this, we will never be able to get a clear handle on the problems that are very real. A refusal to acknowledge that racism exists does not, in fact, mean that it ceases to exist. Just because you say, “I’m not judging women who dress in a particular way.” Doesn’t mean that you don’t, and that your judgements are not apparent in your actions, your speech about and to those women, and how you communicate your unspoken value system of judgements. Being aware of this is the first step to becoming the People we always hoped we’d be.
Yes, we judge, sometimes unwisely, sometimes cruelly, sometimes without all the pertinent information in hand. Acknowledging these perceptions and valuations in a way that does not entail the expectation that those values will have an impact on the world beyond our immediate sphere is probably what we’re missing. I judge, and I reap the consequences or rewards of admitting that. Sometimes, I suffer for it, but that’s a part of the social contract, and I’m comfortable with bearing the cost of my overt policy of communication. I think that the alternative–never saying what I really feel or think, never sharing myself candidly or engaging in a frank conversation–would be a form of Hell for me. How would I learn? How would I grow as a human being, unless I shared my real thoughts and heard the legitimate responses to those thoughts from people who may have different value systems? What’s the best way for you to exercise judgement without expectations? You’ll find that for yourselves.