Tag Archives: judgement


Your friend has been accused of a terrible thing. Your first reaction is likely to be that you will want to believe this is wrong. The accuser has horrible motives of their own, perhaps (after all, this does happen). There’s been a mistake, a misunderstanding. Some explanation exists that makes it all ok. Not only do we do this when people we care about are accused of terrible things, we can do it when people we care about do terrible things to us. We love them, and so we want them to be decent people. We may shoulder the blame for what happened so that we can carry on believing they are good people.

We may believe that how a person has treated us is representative of who they are. This is often something that comes up when people defend abusers. What’s going on here is as much about the person offering the defence as anything else. If you believe that how a person presents to you, is how they are – which should be a sane and fair assumption – challenging that is uncomfortable. If they were hiding that part of themselves from you, why did they do that? Or were you not paying attention? Were the signs there all along? Should you have seen this? Did you unconsciously turn a blind eye? These are not comfortable places to explore.

We all like to believe in the value of our own judgement. In fact, believing that you can make good calls is a key thing for staying sane and functional. Of course we all want to defend our own judgement, because without that we’re horribly adrift. If my friend has done a terrible thing, and I didn’t see they were a person capable of doing a terrible thing, what does that say about me? What does it say about me if I truly loved a person who did a terrible thing? What if, knowing about the terrible thing, I can’t unlove them? What does that make me? If they lied to me and deliberately misled me, what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t see through that?

Sometimes it is easier to assume the best and be actively complicit at this point, rather than facing the painful alternatives. It may not be the accused person we are protecting, but ourselves, our sense of self, our confidence in ourselves. It’s an understandable response. It is also important to ask how much evidence you need to acknowledge that your friend has done a terrible thing. And that perhaps by association, you have enabled a terrible thing.

Sometimes, we don’t want to look too hard at the terrible thing our friend has done, because if we did, we’d have to question our own behaviour. If their attitude is rapey, maybe ours is too. If they are sexist, or racist and we haven’t seen that, maybe it’s because we have the same issues. If their shouting, temper tantrums and irresponsibility isn’t ok, maybe our similar actions aren’t ok either. And so we may be inclined to support them so that we don’t have to question ourselves.

Questioning yourself is hard. Recognising and putting down problematic behaviour and attitudes is hard. It all comes down to whether taking the easy path is always preferable, even if it means you don’t get to be an honourable person. It often means knowing, on some level, that you are out of order and having to live with the tension between who you want people to think you are, and how you are, and that can take quite a toll.


Judging well

Being judgemental is something that tends to be discouraged on spiritual paths. We often hear that we shouldn’t judge each other, and should be more accepting of each other. In many contexts, this has merit, but judgement, like all things, is complicated. If we reduce it to a handful of simple instructions, many good things can be lost to us.

Judgement is a concept that is often framed as a way of putting someone else down. To judge is to criticise, to find fault or insufficiency or to apportion blame. However, this is just one set of options.

What happens when we go out into the world determined to seek out the very best? When we look around us to judge what is most beautiful, most valuable, most worthy? When we do that so that we can follow through by supporting it?

We make judgements all the time about how to use our time, energy and resources. Those decisions may not be especially conscious or deliberate, and may be driven by habit or cultural pressures. When we judge deliberately, we become able to invest deliberately.

If we pause to scrutinise what we do in our spare time – to take a not too contentious example – then all kinds of things may emerge. It is quite normal to relax by flopping down in front of the telly. It is quite normal to spend a lot of time scrolling through social media. It’s when you start judging your down time for what it gives you that you learn who you are and what you most benefit from. I find a little social media time can be highly beneficial to me, but if I keep doing it through lack of any better ideas, I suffer. I benefit greatly from time spent crafting. I do better watching a single film in an evening than whatever a television had on it. When I judge, I can pick the best of what’s on offer, and act on that. Other people’s judgments will naturally yield different results.

I have only so much time in a day, only so much energy. When I make deliberate judgements about what’s good and what’s best, I can invest that time and energy more carefully. I can decide what and who to support to best effect, rather than having my energy dissipate in dribs and drabs. I can judge what does me most good, and what does me no good at all. I can judge where I am most effective, and where I don’t make much odds and can act accordingly. By being really judgemental, I make myself more effective.

If I love something, then I’ll throw myself into supporting it. That might be about a specific book, or an author, a musician, a cause, a community… Judging opens the way to action. At the same time, I don’t waste my time and energy on things that I judge unfavourably. I move away, I quietly let go, I invest no energy. That something isn’t for me doesn’t render it valueless. It just means there’s nothing I can usefully do or gain from contact. There’s no point squandering resources over drama around that.

‘Don’t judge’ can sometimes be a kind option, but it can also be a recipe for being bland and non-descript, and having no direction or values. It can be a means of encouraging us simply to hide from ourselves the judgements we make. If you are going to judge, better to do so consciously. Harness your judgement as a means to focus on what is good, and it becomes a powerful tool for your journey rather than a problem you have to overcome.

Outside the tribe

Last week, Angharad wrote a really challenging and brilliant post about the language of tribe and othering. It is not an easy read. It is easy to look at something like this and say, ‘ah yes, other people are getting it wrong again,’ and to assume that I am ok. I admit my first response was to assume it wasn’t about me. On reflection, it is at least as much me as anyone else. You can read the original post here – https://incidentaldruidry.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/belonging/

I know why it happens. Anger and frustration at what the mainstream does, this sleepwalking into environmental disaster, this system that favours the rich and punishes the vulnerable, these habits of ever greater consumption… There have been plenty of times when talking about greener living and cultural change, when I have clearly made people who don’t agree with me very uncomfortable indeed.

Is that acceptable, given what I understand to be at stake here? On my good days, I try to do it more gently, with alternatives and examples rather than howling. But how does that read? A bit smug, possibly. A bit ‘see what a good Druid I am.’ If the affect of any post of mine is just to persuade people that I am better than them, then I have failed.

The uncomfortable truth is, that I do want to put some people firmly outside my tribe. The exploiters, the frackers, the pro-austerity and anyone else using their wealth and power to beat up someone who has less wealth and power. This is not my tribe, and I want to draw a ring around it, and if I could literally will the worst offending planet killers out of existence, I would do so without hesitation.

I’m conscious of how Cat Treadwell has been posting about her chaplaincy work, and not giving up on people, and I admire her courage and generosity. I don’t think I could do that. I recognise that I can be quite a judgemental person, and that I am capable of considerable anger. I acknowledge that I would not put so much effort into living the way I do, if I did not consider those choices to be in some way superior to other choices. That has implications for how I think about other people. Whether I assume social conditioning, lack of care, personal greed or lack of understanding informs what they do, I still judge.

We are killing the planet, and so many people who could do differently carry on seeking their own amusement and will not change in any way because their ‘in the moment’ happiness is held as more important than the consequences. I don’t know how to be anything other than judgemental in face of that – silence, seems to be about the best there is. I don’t know how not to feel angry, and afraid of what is happening to our world. There are plenty of days when any disrespectful name for the wilfully oblivious seems tempting. Aware also that I justify my own less than perfectly green choices, the computer, the shortcomings in my shopping, the many, many things I do not do well, and do not do better. If I criticise behaviour – and I often do – then more often than not I cause hurt and offence to someone, based on the feedback I get. While I might separate behaviour from personhood, the person hearing me cannot be assumed to be so cool about the distinctions.

The conclusion that I am coming to, is that I certainly have no right to other anyone else, no right to exclude, and that I need to watch myself for overtly offensive language. I will stand outside of the mainstream, not by trying to exclude anything too mainstream from an imaginary and non-existent ‘tribe’ but by recognising that I am the one stood on the outside, shouting into the wind, for whatever good that might do anyone.

Being Judgemental

One of the things I’ve learned in the last few weeks is that I’m a seriously judgemental person. When it comes to entertainment in all forms, I’m really fussy and get cross about time given to things that weren’t very good (by my subjective standards). I can be fairly judgemental about people, too. I know there’s a significant social movement towards holding up being non-judgemental as an ideal, because it isn’t nice to judge people, or what they do.

I think it’s really important to be able to judge. If you cannot say when something is rubbish, you also cannot meaningfully say when it is good. I think that’s too great a loss to countenance. I want to know where my work could be better (it could always be better). If I let myself think everything I do is good enough, helped by nobody judging me, I am not going to improve much, nor have any sense of improvements if I do achieve something. If I cannot say a person is cruel, unkind, violent and unreasonable, I cannot protect myself from violence or other forms of abuse, or warn others.

Being non-judgemental can in fact be incredibly lazy. One thing is not as good as another, more often than not. Where there are real needs, like nutrition, a bowl of sweets is not the same as a bowl of fruit. Ultimate value-judging can also be lazy – the kind of attitude that says ‘all comics are worthless’ has not bothered to find out whether all comics are the same (they aren’t) or what impact comics actually have on people. We need to be very careful when making sweeping judgements about things we have no direct knowledge of – there’s another judgement.

Often it is easiest to be judgemental of broad trends, ideas, swathes of people. I hate television, which is unfair because there probably is some good stuff in there somewhere. We will be most unpopular where we judge specifically – this book and that comment. The broad trends are easier to dismiss. If I hate fantasy as a genre (which I don’t) and you love it, you can just dismiss me as the sort of idiot who does not value fantasy. If I hate your favourite novel, that’s starting to feel a lot more personal. If I hate the novel you wrote, that’s about as personal as it gets. There is a school of thought that says I should not offend you by making it known that I do not like your stuff.

What is the alternative? Lying by omission, and a strange language inflation in which ‘like’ can start to suggest ‘actually do not much like’ and anything short of rabid praise starts to sound like damnation. That’s no kind of win.

Judgement is impossible to bear if we need to be loved universally. It is horrendous to find someone disagrees with us, if it is our belief that everyone should feel the same way we do. If our loves and labours are so fragile that any dislike of them will crush us, and them, we’ve got some work to do. This isn’t about the person who judges us, this is about us.

It is possible to be judgemental without being rude or destructive. Not liking a thing does not make it ok to pile on the abuse. I do not like television, but that doesn’t mean I am entitled to belittle the people who do, or to rubbish the people who work in the medium. My tastes and preferences are not the ultimate measure of quality. There is a difference between saying ‘I do not like it’ and ‘it has no worth’. Unfortunately, many people will hear the former as the latter, which is unhelpful. Not everyone has to like what we do. It is ok not to have universal love and approval, and if we’re looking for that, we’re going to get badly bruised, because there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy to hate you for what you do, no matter what that is.

If you are surrounded by people who only say how great you are and never mention when you mess up, your views become sorely distorted. If, through tantrums and vitriolic responses, or even violence, you make it impossible to criticise you, then you cannot learn and instead give yourself a free hand to do as you please. Totalitarian regimes make cultures where no one is able to judge them. Abusive lovers do the same thing, for the same reasons. The people who know they are shoddy but do not want to face that truth will build webs of lies and further abuses to protect themselves from judgement.

Judgement is a good thing. Used well, it undermines abuse and stupidity. Used well, it gives people chance to do better and go further. Applied specifically and with sense, it helps us improve the qualities of our lives by focusing on that which we most benefit from. Knowing what to judge, and what to let go of, what to challenge and what to shrug over is a good Druid skill. Knowing what is dangerous and what is less so, what needs taking down and what needs a quiet word to point it in a better direction. These are skills of diplomacy and insight, and it would serve us all to hone them.

Being Judged

Modern Paganism doesn’t do much in terms of imagining post-death judgement. This is one of the things I happen to like. The idea of someone keeping score, and judging me against an unknown set of rules or criteria has never felt like a comfortable thing. There are so many religions that know that one true way to guaranteed passing the end of your life test. Unfortunately many of them are incompatible, and don’t even agree about what the ultimate goal is.

I rather like the ancient Egyptian take on this one. After death, the heart of the dead person is weighed in the underworld, the Gods providing the equipment and seeing the process through, but not actually judging anything. It is the heart of the individual that provides judgment.

We are what we do. We are constantly in the process of becoming the sum and total of our actions. Flawed, striving, learning, we make mistakes, some of them terrible. The weight of the heart will not depend entirely on those mistakes, but also on what we did after them. The person who apologises, makes amends, seeks to redress the wrong done, will have a much lighter heart than the one who carries that guilt and the weight of wrongdoing. In this system, our delusions and fantasies shouldn’t turn out to count for much. The person who is joyfully evil should not come to the final reckoning with a light heart. But then, having been neither joyfully evil, or consciously dead, I can only speculate and there’s no knowing if the Egyptians had it right.

In interesting parallel, I read a book about consciousness back in the summer (title eludes me). It talked about how we construct our own minds, through thoughts, actions, beliefs, until at last we end up with the consciousness we die with. The writer felt that a consciousness in harmony, one that loved, sought truth and lived well, would be better placed to either survive death, and continue in a meaningful way, or voluntarily dissipate and join once more with everything else. A consciousness built of hatred, greed, selfishness and other such negative traits would simply go on to create its own hell. It’s a vision that calls for no external judgement at all, and simply makes our outcome the product of our own actions. Hell is something we may, or may not, choose to make for ourselves, both in this life and, potentially, in whatever comes after.

It brings us back again to the interesting issues of how death shapes life, and how beliefs about death inform what we choose to do. Are you expecting judgement from an eternal source that has the potential simultaneously to bestow meaning and reward?  Do you believe there is nothing beyond life and that you may as well please yourself in every regard? Do you believe that there is nothing else and that the only option is to live well and do the best with what you’ve got? If your heart went on the scales today, how would it weight?

There’s a lovely mediaeval song called Lyke Wake Dirge, about going through purgatory after death. “If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon… sit thee down and put them on… if never thou gavest hosen or shoon… the whinnies shall prick thee to the bare bones’. There’s another pair of verses about meat and drink following on from the shoes and socks. I like the idea that in the afterlife, all that we will have to help us on the journey to the next stage, will be what we gave to others. That’s a judgement I could live with.