Tag Archives: judging

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.

The urge to judge

It’s not a new thing, this idea that, with a casual glance at someone’s life, or body, we can determine what’s ‘really’ going on and judge them accordingly. The notion of the ‘deserving’ poor versus the ‘underserving’ has been with us for a long time. The refusal to accept that most chronic illness means good days and bad days. A person on a bad day is not faking it, what they could do on a good day is not the measure. Mental health difficulties are unhelpfully judged as not trying hard enough, making a fuss. So, why are we so keen to judge based on little or no real insight?

Firstly because it can let us off the hook. If the problem isn’t real then with an easy conscience, we can decline to help. We don’t have to change ourselves or the systems we operate in. It’s a lazy choice based on putting personal ease ahead of other people’s real needs.

We are taught to fear the idea that someone else could get something for nothing. But, it’s the lazy poor we are to be suspicious of. Not shareholders. Not those with big expense claims against the public purse. Not people who inherited and don’t need to work. Those with money are welcome to more money for doing nothing, those with no money we don’t want to move money towards. This is old, and its purpose is transparent as soon as you stop to look at it.

We are more afraid that some people might get something they aren’t entitled to, than we are concerned that people who need help should get help. We are willing to punish the many on the off-chance of hampering a few who want to play the system. Our politicians have encouraged this.

Judging a person with issues and victim blaming is a standard tactic for bullies. If the victim is making a fuss, a drama queen, attention seeking, or anything like that, then the bully has more scope to keep attacking without consequences. Overt judging and shaming of others can be a smokescreen to hide violence, abuse and mistreatment.

In judging people, we can feel superior to them. When life is short of lifts and ego boosts, it can be tempting to denigrate someone else just to feel bigger than they are. If other people support us in this, we can feel even larger and more important.

Those who are poor, ill, and struggling are a vulnerable, easy target for haters and blamers. It’s the demographic least able to fight back, least likely to have energy or resources to take you to court or otherwise seek justice and rebalance.

We like to think we know. We like to think we’re clever enough to see exactly what’s going on in someone else’s life. We think if something wouldn’t hurt us, or make our brains stop working then it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone else either. We are persuaded that our life experience is a fair measure of someone else’s struggles.

What it means, when we walk this path, is that we only judge other people, and never have to judge ourselves.

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.