Judging Judgment

There are two personality traits that absolutely do my nut in:

– People who try taking the higher moral ground by claiming that they never judge others.  At all.  Ever. No sirree.

– People who are judgmental to the extent that they consider their beliefs and perceptions to be fact, regularly dictate these ‘facts’ to others, and are not prepared to consider a different viewpoint.  At all.  Ever.  No sirree.

Maybe you’ve met some of the first kind, or second kind, or maybe you’ve even met people who display signs of both of those traits.  It wouldn’t surprise me, because the practise of being judgmental is something which our modern-day society has a lot to say about.

As most already know, the UK has not always been as tolerant of diversity as it is today.  Despite the vast number of improvements over the years,  there are still many gaps in need of the creation of a big, cast iron bridge between them before we can really think about classing ourselves as an egalitarian society.  However – we are getting there, and constantly making progress.  A combination which includes – but is not limited to – passionate human rights organisations, developments in the law, and inspirational individuals have all contributed to a society that is much more welcoming of different types of people than it was say, fifty years ago.  Rightly so, and long may that continue.

However, there’s a particular word, defining a particular characteristic, that has seemed to become a little misunderstood and stigmatised throughout this process.   Over the years, it’s gradually turned into become of those ‘buzzwords’ that any person or organisation will claim not to be, in measure with the new movement, but which is actually a fundamental and automatic part of human nature – the trait of being judgmental.

At this point, you may be finding yourself adamantly telling yourself that you are not judgmental, but if you are, then the likelihood is that you too have been swept up into this idea that to judge others is a big no-no that is not and cannot be done ever ever ever.  But when you sit and really think about it, each of us are judging others all the time.  We judge anything, anybody, anytime.  In the same sense that we judge the road as being too busy to cross, we find ourselves judging other people based on our interactions with them.  We may judge that people are unfriendly, or beautiful, or funny, or malicious, or kind-hearted, or lazy, or *insert any other adjective here*.  We don’t always acknowledge it as such, but anytime we do this – we are making a judgment, and being judgmental.  It’s automatic, and it’s based on experience, but it’s still judgment – a belief based on a personal interaction with a particular person or thing.  In my mind, it is verging on the impossible to be non-judgmental.

I’ve considered this idea a lot lately, and it’s been only by doing so that I’ve started to be receptive to just how often I find myself making some form of judgment about others.  Like this morning on my way to work, I passed a lady who had ginger hair and red trousers. My immediate thought was that the colours clashed and it wasn’t the best of choices, and that she was foolish for not realising this.  That was a judgment.  A trivial one perhaps, but a judgment nonetheless.
I’ve been served by cashiers who have given me the totally incorrect change.  I’ve considered their basic mathematical ability and rendered them ‘stupid’ in my mind.  That was a judgment.
I’ve sat next to people on the train who emanate the scents of festering filth and a voice within has narrated to myself that they do not wash.  That was a judgment.
I’ve walked past Wetherspoons in Canterbury at 9:30am on a weekday morning, observed the bunch of folks consuming pints of Abbots Ale on the pavement, and questioned the integrity of their lifestyle.  That was a judgment.
And when I see hooded youths walking towards me on the pavement as I walk within dark skies, I feel afraid and intimidated.  That too, is a judgment.

And that’s just a few examples.  On this basis, I am a very judgmental person indeed.

The prevalent theme in each of these – and other – situations in which I’ve formed a judgment, is that the judgment has often been automatic and difficult to suppress.  A hunch.  A notion.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s there, and I sometimes ask myself where I’d be without it.  Jumping into cars with strangers?  Believing every single word anybody ever tells me? Thinking that a breakfast-time beer at the pub is a healthy way to start each day?  Judgment can serve value, it can be a safety mechanism.  If we were never judgmental, we may as well lie back and stitch, ‘Home Sweet Home’ across our chests and prepare for the rest of civilisation to stomp all over our sorry selves as we sit wondering what we really think about… well, anything at all.

But if being judgmental is an automatic response more commonly displayed than we would each like to think, what makes it such an apparent sin?  How and why is the concept so widely and frequently maligned by diversity activists alike?

For me, it’s a very simple equation:

Judgment + Close-Mindedness = Bad
Judgment + Open-Mindedness = OK

And that is where the difference lies.  That is where the diversion occurs between people who remain judgmental in an automatic sense, and people who are judgmental in the non-forgiving, ignorant sense that has been the key catalyst in this whole ‘war on judgment’ that modern day equal rights activism has fought so hard in.  This is the reason why so many are so scared to voice or even acknowledge their own opinions and judgments.  They don’t want to be misinterpreted as sharing a behavioural trait in common with the kinds of people who are too blinkered to ever consider that their opinion, and their judgments, aren’t necessarily the same thing as ‘facts’.

Other peoples’ judgments and opinions on things never really bother me – on most occasions, they make for interesting discussions and the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.  But when those judgments are over-flaunted, or combined with a nauseating bucket-load of close-mindedness, that’s when the art of being judgmental really, really, winds me up… like an old-fashioned clockwork doll, affixed with a natural expression of 19th century denunciation.

In a world so wealthy with diversity of thought, surprise and contradiction, it staggers me how confident some people can be that what they think about things, people, the universe, is the truth, and how much they think everybody needs to hear it!  Not only do I find it irritating, but it completely undermines the ability of anybody else around them to make up their own minds.  The internet is a great tool for these kind of people.  They leave controversial comments on news stories, or create websites advocating their controversial beliefs, or post a bajillion Tweets per day just to let people know what they think, as if it really matters.  I will always support people expressing their thoughts and feelings, but I have very low tolerance for those who constantly try to portray these thoughts and judgments as facts, or, at the very least, try and convert others into sharing the sentiment.

We all have our own opinions, and we all have particular reasons behind those opinions.  So why do some people think that theirs are any more founded than anybody elses?  And why are those same people often the ones who so seldom acknowledge the other side of any debate they are ever involved in?  It’s that which embellishes stigma to the natural and automatic process of making judgments and forming opinions.  It’s that which makes ‘judgmental people’ seem such a pain in the arse to the rest of us, even when the practise of making judgment itself is something which everybody does.

Do you know what?  I quite like knowing that the judgments I make aren’t necessarily going to turn out as a reflection of the truth, if there indeed is a ‘truth’ (and in many instances, I don’t think there is.  Most things will always be just a matter of opinion).  I’ve been proven wrong about things hundreds of times about hundreds of things, and whilst they weren’t always discoveries for the better, it’s all added colour to the rich fabric of life and taught me the importance of keeping an open-mind about things, all the time.  Because nothing ever stays the same, nor would we ever want it to, and just because we feel a particular way about a particular thing now, we may feel differently tomorrow.  The important thing is that we allow for that to happen, and don’t let the judgments we make turn into a curse that narrows our horizons too much.

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

Song of the Day:  Tunng – Hustle

A nice little ditty from an English band who’s musical style is often classed as ‘Folktronica’ – definitely worth discovering!

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