“The only creative attitude towards weakness or the disabilities of others is quiet humility. What I condemn in others, may be but a reflection of myself in a mirror.” – Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart
Recently I read a rather fascinating piece on judgement, written by a fellow member of Culture Shock. In it, she ascertains that judgment isn’t necessarily a negative thing. That being judgmental is about “deciding what you want and whether you want someone, or something in your life.” In other words, judging someone is neither negative nor positive, rather an observation of another’s behavior that we may take into account, which helps us to better live our own lives.
While I think that this is a very valid point that offers an interesting perspective on the meaning of judgement and what it means to be judgmental, I would like to go a bit deeper on the subject.
The word judgmental has a two-part definition. On one side, to be judgmental is simply “to use judgment,” while on the other, it is, “to have or display an excessively critical point of view.”** Being judgmental can mean being perceptive and using ones awareness of a situation to make some sort of positive or negative observation. In the phrase “to use judgment,” the word “judgment” is associated with all sorts of admirable things like knowledge, perceptivity, awareness, prudence and wisdom. Accordingly, one can say that being judgmental can be considered a good thing, despite the sometimes negative connotation. But, there’s the kicker. There is a negative connotation to being judgmental in the very definition of the word. To be judgmental can also mean “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.” And that doesn’t help anybody.
It’s difficult to remain objective while judging another’s behavior. That’s just human nature. Everything is filtered through our own personal lens. Much like light upon hitting the front element or outer lens of a camera, information is warped and bent into a singular point, funneled through layers of our own personal opinion that work to subtly alter the initial observation, and is then processed by our brain, which comes to a final conclusion or judgment. It’s a flawed system, and therefore all the more difficult to maintain a precise observation that is not mired by personal history or connection. For that reason, I find that the choice to be judgmental all to often causes people to stray away from being aware and perceptive. Suddenly being judgmental facilitates pessimism and negative thoughts about others– angry words and harsh opinions that consider only part of the picture.
Due to our inability to take ourselves out of our observations, we form opinions about other people that are simply transplanted self-judgments. We can’t help it. As human beings, it’s impossible to take ourselves completely out of the equation.
Therefore rather than to be judgmental, it is far better to simply observe. To try to look on the world with an analytical eye, but not an overly critical one. Consider things through the lens of your own life and make decisions using as much objective knowledge that you can hope to gather. It’s critical to try to be observant and thoughtful without forming any strong, initial opinions. In other words, if you choose to be judgmental, be careful to follow the first half of the definition without slipping into its darker, other half.
Minister Howard Thurman has a very wise opinion on the matter as a whole:
“Every judgment that I pass upon my fellows is a self-judgment. Judgment can only be whole and creative when it takes place in a context of full and absolute knowledge. Full and absolute knowledge even of one’s self is never possible; how can it be with reference to others? Again it becomes us to say with true humility, ‘Judgement belongs to God.’ ” – Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart
*Featured Image:photo credit:movito via photopin cc
** Oxford Dictionary