Living List: My Judgement

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My Judgement Page Contents

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1. Judgement definition: The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions; an opinion or conclusion

2. Judgemental definition: Having or displaying an overly critical point of view

“Don’t judge me!” “They’re so judgemental” “I’m scared of judgement” “Don’t be so judgemental” “People shouldn’t be judgemental” “Live non-judgementally”

Feel familiar? While the ideal of ‘living non-judgementally’ sounds wonderful in theory, I often wonder how feasible this ideal actually is. Does our popular discourse on ‘judgement’ of others oversimplify a complex human dynamic? Does this oversimplification actually act as an obstruction to understanding? Does it stop us from utilising our judgements of others more constructively and with more emotional intelligence?

The self-contradiction inherent in espousing a judgement that ‘non-judgement’ is the ‘right’ thing has always struck me as evidence in itself that an aim of complete non-judgement might be futile.

Very honestly, my judgemental opinion of simplistic notions of judgement cause me to feel irritation and exasperation at times. This emotional reaction happens because simplistic notions conflict with my motivating values of curiosity and understanding. Values which naturally don’t motivate everyone- my judgement simply tells me they matter a lot just to me. The emotional reaction also occurs despite my rational understanding that the persistence of these less complex concepts make sense.

The persistence of these oversimplifications makes sense because we don’t tend to speak about these concepts with intellectual or emotional curiosity to find out how it might work. So naturally, we’re not going to develop an understanding of what judgement is or how it works, are we? Also naturally, as a consequence, we don’t gain the emotional benefits of less judgemental processes over time. Instead, we seem to speak of these concepts with emotionally motivated critical statements derived from our own self-serving desire to be safe from judgement. Statements which, ironically, judge and criticise the existence of judgement. They run up against the dead-end of that criticism without taking the various other, less judgemental thinking paths that examine, e.g.: What might be happening? How does it work? What effect does it have? What can functionally and feasibly be done differently?

If examined through the lens of definition 1, judgement is a necessary, inescapable mental process. Without the ability to make ‘considered decisions’ wouldn’t we be immobilised, or at the very least, continuously putting ourselves at risk? In a much less active sense, to be without opinions or conclusions seems to me to be an impossibility- our opinions and conclusions mostly occur in any single moment, without any conscious effort or control in that specific moment. This is despite the capacity to consciously, effortfully re-examine and reconsider over time. What would a human without opinions and conclusions even look like? I expect it would present as a ‘dysfunctional’ life, at least relative to our social norms of what is conventionally perceived of as ‘functional’ (an exploration for another time).

However, it’s not this sense of ‘judgement’ that we rail against, is it? In speaking of judgement, we’re not considering the necessity of definition 1, or thinking of the distinction. It’s more definition 2, ‘judgemental’: the critical connotations, and in particular, I perceive, the effects of those critical opinions on ourselves.

Without control, my own mind often forms a cynical judgement in response to some statements relating to non-judgement. In these instances, my perception is that what is motivating someone to speak in praise of ‘non-judgement’ might be less of a universal, altruistic ideal for all people. My suspicion is it’s perhaps not an ideal inclusive of their own judgemental feeling, thinking and behaviour. Rather, that it might be an expression motivated by their own discomfort with experiences of feeling judged. A natural motivation, of course- I also desire less judgemental interactions.

As the iconic epitome of ‘non-judgement’, I really wonder whether buddhist monks who have genuinely attained a less judgemental mindset and way of living possibly do this by mindfully observing their judgements rather than attempting to eradicate them. Have you noticed that an aim of pure non-judgement just seems to compel the precise thing it aims to decrease? With non-judgement as the aim, awareness of our instances of judgement seems to induce self-judgement. Whereas, if the aim is more achievable, like simply getting to know our own judgemental processes, can there can be more space for neutrally observing what’s happening, developing less judgement of our judgements and building more acceptance over time?

I’ve noticed over time that I’ve developed a relationship of curiosity and intrigue with my own judgements. It’s like I take my judgement on dates. I ask it lots of questions, let it act out in my mind however it’s wanting to, observing what it’s naturally showing me about itself (i.e. myself), what it motivates me to feel and do and how it works. I didn’t intend to form a committed relationship with getting to know my judgements, but since I’ve realised that this committed relationship has formed, I relish the opportunities to take it on these dates and keep getting to know it as it grows and changes. I suspect I will continue to date it for the rest of my life. Following are some examples of what I’ve learned from dating my own judgement and letting it show me who I am and who I want to be.

Tell me, what sort of relationship do you have with your own judgement?

Is it the shameful relative you keep hidden in the attic, feeding it sustenance daily, but never openly acknowledging its existence?

Is it like a split personality that acts dissociated from you, meanwhile you’re oblivious to your own person having engaged in the actions it perpetrated?

Is it your justified, righteous ally in the valiant battle of you against everything not you?

Is it a best friend with whom you learn from its strengths and negotiate with it to grow from its (your) weaknesses, continually getting to know it and understand it better?

Entry 1: The Caricature

What were my judgements?

A few months ago I encountered a new person in a group setting. For the record, I have no internet association with them, so if you’re wondering if it’s you, it’s definitely not. I also won’t give specific details so as not to identify them.

In a short time, they made multiple statements about how much they cared about others and claims of living a lifestyle based on what’s popularly termed ‘authenticity’.

Peppered amidst these claims were actions that indicated a lack of thought about the group as a whole. Failure to perceive and accommodate a few individual’s sensitivities. A lot of talk about material wealth and status. They only asked questions of others that seemed to be relevant to their own current preoccupations in their life, rather than what these people were showing was meaningful to them. They even made a few statements that might have indicated some racism. This was all mild, it actually had little impact on anyone, nothing at all directly towards me. (☠️-ray: the negative feelings that come with judgement can be entertaining in a perverse way) My irritation and annoyance at these contradictions was also mild, but my amusement was gleeful.

Later, I told my friends about what I’d noticed. (☠️-Ray: unbalanced focus on what’s not valued —-> inflated, one-dimensional negative perception) Our conversations gleefully turned this person into an unkind caricature of a self-deluded pair of yoga pants. I imagined them haphazardly gallivanting through life, mindlessly regurgitating all the trending words they absorb from Instagram motivational posts, meanwhile obliviously trampling the feelings and needs of others.

(What is ‘☠️-ray’? Click here for Living List reflection key)

What do my judgements tell me about my own values and what’s important to me?

I felt irritated and a bit scornful, and languished in my mockery of this person. Noticing the origin of these thoughts and feelings, it is not because I believe they themselves are objectively a person worthy of derision. My thoughts and feelings were motivated by my subjective value of qualities that they weren’t showing during this time.

By observing my feelings and where my mind takes me, I’ve noticed that my judgemental reactions are driven by being confronted with things that conflict with what’s important to me. (☠️-ray: if you haven’t contemplated your own judgements as signals of what your values are, rather than what is ‘wrong’ with other people, this part might take some time and thinking to process).

My thoughts, feelings and observations told me that:

  • I was in the company of someone who may not be able to consider others consistently in a way that is meaningful to me. Being in the company of reliable consideration is important to me. My concept of consideration may not be theirs.

  • I was in the company of someone who may not have my version of the self-awareness needed to match their ideals with their behaviour. It’s important to me to be able to trust someone’s own self-assessment, so they’ll be self-motivated to act according to their ideals without instruction or make reparations when they don’t. This may not be something important to them, or a stage they’ve reached yet.

  • I was in the company of someone whose own preferences and intentions might motivate them more than a desire to balance those with a group of others. It’s important to me personally, a choice I make, to balance myself with the wider group. My unique exposure to particular experiences gives me the observation that groups seem to work best when each person is doing this. This may not be their value, and they may not have been exposed to the experiences I have which would promote that value.

  • My private amusement and ridicule was just another self-serving opportunity to reinforce and understand my own value of these things, rather than conclude an objective condemnation of another person. This person and my observations of this person just served as the catalyst. This person actually has no impact on my life. I can just use these feelings and thoughts to make a choice not to spend too much time with them. A choice for the sake of my social needs, and for the sake of their need to receive respectful interaction from me.

What about the more complex other person beyond my self-focused judgements?

This part is the precise reason I’m using this as one illustration of my judgemental processes.

My immediate impressions of them were that this person was possibly feeling extremely self-conscious, possibly generally unsure of themselves and that all their associated insecurities motivate them strongly. These feelings are vulnerable and sensitive for all of us to experience. (☠️-ray: insidious, unchallenged, righteously judgemental behaviour has pervasive emotional impacts that are hard to tease out) If this person was in fact feeling them, it matters. It’s possibly experience and fear of the type of diminishing judgement I indulged in privately that drives these feelings for them.

Simply the fact that they felt the urge to make so many impression-bolstering statements about themselves to a group of strangers suggested to me that they were hyper-aware of how others might view them. They seemed eager to ensure immediate understanding and external validation of themselves. Hyper-awareness of how others view us can be an excruciating experience. We’ve all experienced that feeling, haven’t we? If not regularly or intensely, at least at times. Reflecting on our own moments of these experiences can be a point of relation regardless of the infinite ways it might motivate each of us differently.

(☠️-ray: the flip-side of the hard feelings we experience in reaction to others is often very sensitive, vulnerable experiences for that person. Experiences which motivate the behaviour we’re reacting to… It’s rarely the purely cynical intentions that our own hard feelings make us believe) Likewise, if my suspicions are accurate and they don’t have much awareness of the impact they have on others, and how that conflicts with their self-concept, life must feel very confusing for them.

I know for myself, that until I become aware of my own role in dynamics between people, the consequent unpleasant feelings and interactions I experience can be difficult to cope with… And gaining awareness can be a long process, if it happens at all. I’m always learning new things about how my own psychology unexpectedly contributes to the dynamics I dislike, so how often am I also oblivious to my impacts? I know the answer. The answer is frequently, and I don’t yet know what I’m oblivious to.

They also spoke about things that had meaning for them. Their family, their job, a big life transition that they’re undergoing. Re-focusing my self-focused, surface judgements I can pay attention to the person whose life matters to themselves. Noticing this, separate from my limited, subjective experience of them reminds me that their existence is broader and more important than my self-entertaining caricature of them.

What did my judgements tell me about how they should feel, think, act?

At this stage in my relationship with my judgement and understanding of people- nothing. My judgements didn’t tell me any shoulds about the other person. They only told me about:

  • What’s right for me;
  • What choices would be best for me;
  • What my unverified suspicions and speculations about the other person are and;
  • Why those speculations matter for my own choices.

Earlier in my development, this self-information would have eluded me. My mind and emotions would have firmly focused on the outward intellectual hypothesising about what was objectively wrong with this person. They should be/think/feel (insert my own ideals that I possibly didn’t even meet here). Why do they do that, it doesn’t make sense? Not actually a question attempting to make sense of their unique context, but a statement of criticism.

In this instance, my judgements told me I may not be able to consistently feel respect or admiration for person, so I can make a choice to limit my engagement.

Obviously, it would be a different story about wrangling my judgements if this person were a relative or a work colleague. However, with most people I’ll encounter in life I will have the choice to read my judgements as indicating what I want in my life.

I can make a choice to disbelieve my judgements as meaning that person should be anything other than what they’re showing or possibly have the capacity to be at that time.

My knowledge of this choice also naturally decreases the preoccupying, festering feelings and opinions that occur if I’m not discerning a difference between my personal values and what has an actual impact on me.

I can also deliberately take my mind to more empathetic explorations of the person whose worth is more important than my subjectivity. I can use that less self-referential understanding to guide more kindly behaviour towards them.

My caricature was a mean, one-dimensional representation of a complex, vulnerable human being like the rest of us. It was one-dimensional in relation to that person, but if read from all angles, it represented multiple dimensions of myself.

Other posts in the Living List section:

Reflection Key for Living Lists

In these ‘living lists’, I’m using the flesh of specific issues or situations to expose common and recurring emotional, mental and behavioural dynamics (as I understand them in myself).

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