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.