Thursday, May 17, 2007

therein lies the judging

Your comments (thank you) to yesterday's post had me pondering why I am reluctant to (publicly) pass judgments. Some of you commented that we all do it, and of course we do. A hundred times a day, from the overarching news of the day: Falwell is dead, see ya fucker (sorry, I couldn't resist the joke from a previous post) to the minute (that guy who just cut me off is an asshole) to issues such as how others parent, etc.

Of course we do. It's how we make sense of the world. I have my world view, and I need the things around me to fit into that construct based on my spectrum of morality and ethics and the like. But at the end of the day, what do judgments really get us?

I think it widens the gap rather than closing it. But I am not sure how we organize our constructs around the things we see without doing it, it's something we've all been taught early on. You are like me, that is good. You are not like me, that is weird, scary, confusing, strange, wrong. Entire tolerance movements have been driven by the judgment of others.

And of course, some judgments are right on and necessary and keep other people safe. But moving the judgment into action that results in a more positive outcome is the kicker, right? My armchair waxing isn't helping my neighbor, and neither is giving her the impression that I think her husband is a smuck. No doubt she already knows he's a smuck and doesn't need me pointing it out. So how does one express their judgment in a way that isn't alienating?

I know when I feel judged in a way I disagree with I feel compelled to prove why that judgment was wrong. I know I take deep offense. But if someone points something out that resonates and makes me want to try something different, or identifies a defense mechanism or behavior I need to take a look at, I am honestly very grateful. But it's an art form, delivering that nudge without alienating the individual.

It's early, this isn't well thought out (hey, no judging) and I am rambling. But I am curious:

How can we use our judgments to have a positive outcome? And what is the benefit to judging if there is no outcome at all?


Tabba said...

I think the positive outcome can be used to reflect on ourselves....that it can't always be used to "fix" or "change" the undesirable situation/person/asshole/challenged parenter, etc.

Sometimes the lesson is staring back at us in the mirror.

Eric said...

That you and others would take this opportunity - not two days since Rev. Falwell passed away – to so disrespect the man and his family - is despicable. As I explain in my blog post, “Assassinating the Dead,” (go to those who would do so place themselves on par with the likes of Fred Phelps, who often shows up at funerals to despise the deceased.

jen said...

Hi Eric,
I am using it as an example of judgments being made based on national news coupled with a joke from an earlier post that you would need to be a regular reader to understand.

deb said...

I missed yesterday's post, just read it. I feel the same way but you saying anything won't change anything. Your neighbor needs a friend. Maybe her marriage isn't what she signed up for, but she'll figure it out, one way or another. My best friend married a smuck, recently divorced him after 18 years, but I never told her in all those years what I thought of her husband. It was hard sometimes but she was my friend.
She wouldn't have listened to me but what I did do, is listen to her.
I have another good friend who I don't agree with how she disciplines her children, but I keep it to myself. Unless someone asks then I would say something. For me, I know I hate unsolicited advice.

Aliki2006 said...

I think passing judgment is necessary, just as noticing and talking about the differences in people is necessary so that we may better understand others, and ourselves. It's important not to pass judgment without using it as a learning, or "teaching" moment, though. To explain to ourselves *why* we are passing judgment in order to better understand our own biases/fears/anxieties.

mayberry said...

One so-called benefit may be that judging another helps us feel better about ourselves, as you mention.

It's when we move beyond the judging and start thinking about how we could change the situation or at least change our own view of it that we really start to benefit.

Mad Hatter said...

Uck Jen. This is tough. The big problem with judgement is the assumption that the person making the judgement is right, that right exists, and that change is the best possible outcome. Life rarely works that way. Yesterday I was called Hitler by an old German man who happens to think my stance on women's reproductive freedom is tantamount to genocide. He believes he is right. He believes there is only one right answer to this issue. His desire to enact change is great. Yikes.

I have a family member who is in a bad marriage. Economics being what they are, her situation would only get worse if she chose to end the marriage. My judgements of her husband's behaviour notwithstanding, there is no viable solution for me other than being a good, supportive friend to that family member.

Bob said...

I missed yesterday's post (I went back and read it before reading today's). judging someone based on little information is an injustice. it is prejudice. If we are to judge at all, it should be their actions and not the individual. Who am I to asses someone as good or bad? Do I not have my own faults? Maybe this man was raised in a culture where the man does not participate in childrearing or housekeeping. This isn't meant to excuse his behavior, it is merely an observation. Why doesn't the woman take this up with her husband? Maybe she has. Maybe she is living with him for what he brings to the relationship, even if it does not meet our expectations of what a marriage and raising a family should be.

People in general are quick to judge, me included. I am trying to stop judging people and instead make neutral observations. Haven't we all at one time or another met someone that we (or others) previously judged negatively and discovered that they were good people that were misunderstood? I have, and have had good friends as a result. If I had stood by my prejudice, I would have missed that friendship.

crazymumma said...

I always tell myself to walk a mile in their shoes.

Sometimes it works, sometimes (as in the Falwells of the world) it doesn't.

No easy answers on this one. Most of the time I keep my judgements to myself.

meno said...

In this case, your making this judgment may allow you to be more available for listening to your neighbor when/if she needs to be heard.

The outcome of all judgments need not be negative.

QT said...

I think judging is necessary. What we do afterwards is more important. Sometimes it can keep us safe, sometimes it can help us understand something about ourselves, or enable us to reach out to another.

Some people use the mantra "you can't judge me" to get away with things that, well, they SHOULD be judged for. I think passing our own judgement in these instances helps us form a moral compass for ourselves - one that we may continually revise.

Tabba said...

Jen - Bob's comment got me thinking about a class I took last semester. We were supposed to do an FBA (functional behavioral assessment, where we simply had to document unbiased observations and take note of what our subject was doing/not doing. We then had to make and formulate logical explanations as to what was the motivating factor behind the behavior. It was very difficult to leave opinion/judgement out. But maybe this kind of approach helps. We can't always be robotic and removed all of the time, but sometimes it might help to look at it in a bit of a "clinical" light. instructor was talking about checking our ideals/norms/judgements at the door - because we will see everything, the many faces that make up families now, the context of each family is so vast, etc.
And I believe I emailed this to you, but she said beautiful, so simple....
"If we are judging, we're not building bridges."

Why couldn't I remember that earlier?

We all falter. We all do it. It's what makes us human. But that little piece of truth. Is all that we can hold on to. That at simply to do our best.

(sorry to use up so much space)

Tabba said...

I meant *and*: that and simply do our best....

Beck said...

The benefits of judging? Well. For one thing, it helps us clarify our own belief and values systems - if someone's behaviour offends me, what is it, precisely that I am offended by?
As far as practical stuff goes - I have friends in awful relationships, and I offer them what sorts of support I can - offers of babysitting, the occasional meal so they can have an evening off, being a yes, non-judgemental ear when they need to vent.

slouching mom said...

It's the motivation for judging that I think is really crucial.

Are we judging to make ourselves feel better about our own lives?

Then it's a no-go, I'd say.

Are we judging because we believe someone to be in a dire situation worthy of our efforts to help?

Getting better.

And, if the judgment inspires action, the action should be undertaken with the utmost sensitivity and respect for the person being judged. Social skills would be important here.

Gwen said...

I'm with beck and others in believing that the good of judgment can be the way it clarifies our own beliefs. I think, too, as a parent, you have to make judgments to protect your children.

Look, I was raised in a belief system that told me that my THOUGHTS were sinful. My thoughts. Like that the minute I felt angry because someone took my favorite piece of candy I was sinning. So it's hard for me to say what's coming next and truly believe it for myself: but what you think about others in your head doesn't really matter. It's not bad or good; it just is. It's still what you do with it. Are you going to be rude to the father? Spit on his food? Ostracize him in his yard? I kind of doubt it. At the same time, being "there" for your neighbor isn't at all the same thing as letting her know you don't love her husband. I try--often unsuccessfully because surprise! I have lots of opinions--to keep my judgments to myself (or my husband) unless someone else brings it up. And then, I usually try to frame the discussion in terms of what feels right to me, not what someone else should do.

flutter said...

I agree with Tabba, that when we judge, we can look at similar behaviors in ourselves and make changes. Isn't that how it all begins?

thailandchani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wordgirl said...

The word assessment sounds better than judgement. As if one is merely sorting out data, rather than subjectively dismissing somone. It's hard not to judge. As for Falwell, I think it's fair to say that the man was a poster child for judgement and condemnation. Anyone who says otherwise is getting his "new" from the FOX channel or the 700 Club.

kristen said...

I don't think I have anything else to add to the already fascinating and intelligent answers you've received here. I love coming here to read Jen.

Binky said...

What Mad Hatter said articulates my own feelings on this: "The big problem with judgement is the assumption that the person making the judgement is right, that right exists, and that change is the best possible outcome." And then what Bob said: "judging someone based on little information is an injustice. it is prejudice." Wordgirl's suggestion of using the word "assessment" sounds right on. An assessment is based on facts and analysis. It can be measured, at least to an extent. Judgement is wholly subjective. You may make a judgement of a situation that inspires you to act--but to get me to join in your cause, I need a thorough and honest assessment of the situation.

Lil said...

I haven't read anyone elses's comments yet, so I don't know what the general consensus is, but here's my 2 cents.

At the base of our biolocial cells, we are still animals. We judge/assess based on what we see/smell/sense using those animalistic instincts. So if we don't can we choose? How can we be the change we want without first knowing what we want to change based on what we see?

I personally don't think judgement is a bad's not malicious, it's a part of our basic being, a part of our nature. It's how we use that we act or what we say afterwards that can do the damage.

Lawyer Mama said...

I haven't read all the comments & just read yesterday's post, but I think that not all judgment is bad. Not only does it more fully clarify our own value system, but it also shapes the values of others in our society. Think of everyone in your community as a Superego. Sometimes judgment is a check on behavior that isn't necessarily *bad* but is too self-indulgent, bad for society, or not within cultural norms. It's not the only thing that makes people behave, but it is one factor.

I too find it awfully difficult not to judge in situations like the one you described. It *is* awfully easy to say that we are open minded or that we hate being judged, so we don't, but we do. We just do. It's automatic and unconscious. And it's not necessarily bad. Can you imagine someone unable to make judgments about people or situations? That would be scary, and dangerous in some situations.

I think judgment is fine unless we let that unconscious gut reaction consciously drive our purposeful actions. Did that make any sense?

That being said, probably the best thing you can do is to let your neighbor know in the best way you can that you're there to listen if she wants to talk. And we all know you'll lend a warm and sympathetic ear if necessary.

KC said...

I don't think judging is a dirty word. To me, it is what we believe something to be, after synthesizing everything we know and feel about a situation. It is rational and it is intuition.

I think the key is being open to the idea that judgments are made sometimes without knowing everything possible, that we are not perfect in our judgments, to be open to discourse to alternative views--> this is how we transform into more enlightened beings. This is how we grow from one another.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I simply had to add your work to my link list. Check out 2 + 2 to find out why ...

Julie Pippert said...

I invest heavily in the line between "my judgments are for me" and "I judge therefore I impose my Way on Another in a Harmful Way."

This kind of brings up the conversation about a universal wrong, which is complicated, but if we can just agree to agree that in most societies the majority concur that some things are not cool in that culture...then I can make my point. LOL

I hate to see people doing things I think of as harmful, to themselves or to others.

I regularly have opinions.

I've learned to distinguish between when it is about me versus when it about someone else. This is the point several others have made about reinforcing our own value system, I think.

I also agree with others who have said your armchair waxing can lead to good since you have opened a door to your neighbor. She has someone who cares, and she knows it.

If I am judged in a constructive way, and it helps me grow, I definitely end up appreciating it.

I have no use for unconstructive criticism, though...and I figure most people don't.

I think I know enough about you to say fairly confidently that even if you do judge, for example, in this situation, you understand it is one aspect and you keep an open mind.

I will say, do not, under any circumstances, approach your neighbor and say, "It must be tough to parent solo, I don't know how you do it!" LOL (LOL b/c I don't think you would ut not lOL b/c that "I don't know how you do it" grates on my last nerve.)

I say passive approaches, "Hey if you ever need to run to the dentist or an errand or just a break, let meknow. Also, I'd love to set up a babysitting trade-off deal, and I'm hoping you might be interested." or some such.

carrie said...

I think that remaining supportive and open is the only way to make our judgements have a postivie outcome . . . if that is what is meant to be.

Sometimes you don't get to choose though, and you have to be willing to accept that.

With your kind nature and voice, I am sure that those around you know that they can come to you with anything, whether you agree with them or not. You seem to just be that kind of person and it is what likely makes you so wonderful in your chosen profession.


Z said...

I've got nothing to add to the discerning comments already made, Jen - what wise friends you have.

But I'll spare some pity for your neighbour's husband. I don't know if he's a schmuck or not, but he's missing out on a lot of joy in his life, in not becoming involved in the raising of his children. When he looks back, when they are grown up with kids of their own, I wonder if he'll regret not having been a bigger part of their lives.

K said...

My first instinct is to be all judgy, but then I try to separate the judged action from the person. Usually after I've passed judgment on someone, I'll see a different side or learn something about them that helps me understand that we all are struggling. And then, some people are just assholes.

I think that on a individual level we have to develop relationships and trust in order to change behavior. Instead of pointing out flaws, we have to present a better more desirable alternative.

hel said...

A good question (As always)

My belief is that we can only try and judge situations which have a direct influence on our beliefs about our selves. The origins of our judgement always need to be questioned. But sometimes we need to be able to decide if spending time with someone will be beneficial to us. Yes, someone has good reason to be a jerk. We need to try and have compassion with their choices. However that does not mean we want to expose ourselves and those we love to the possible havoc they could wreak on our lives. There is no way I could make this decision without coming to some kid of judgement.

That said I’m quite convinced that the perfect me would know how to make that judgement without losing compassion for a human being doing the best they can with what they have. But I’m still working towards being that person.

Mmm, sounds a bit confusing but I judge you to be someone who will forgive my ramblings :)

The Holmes said...

That's a tough question. It sounds like what you're getting at is the possibility of being open to a different point of view, brought about by someone else judging, or giving their view of something, a view that we may not have. For the most part, I tend to think that passing judgment is a dangerous action because it implies that your mind is already made up, which I think causes us to lose the ability to see that other viewpoint. I dunno. This is really something to ponder.

Missy said...

Deep questions, great post, great comments (mad hatter's words resonate with me). I was going to just lurk away, bu-uut...

Jen, I get a lot of good vibes here and I don't think you are an overly judgemental person.

We don't like to "judge" because the word is so tied up with "innocence", "guilt", and "punishment".

And of course we don't want to be accused of pre-judging (prejudice).

So we're cautious about expressing our judgements. And we should be. It's that caution that allows you to avoid the social misstep of alienating your friend when you only really want to offer her help in achieving happiness.

I don't really think you need advice here. It's a balancing act. For what it's worth, I think you're doing just fine.

Laurie said...

Jen, I don't have much time...I really need to get some rest, but I had to stop in and tell you how much Dale (and all of us) appreciated your sweet note.

Wolf and I have read and re-read all of the cards to Dale and also the blog comments and it really has been a source of inspiration and comfort to him.

Thank you so much.