Monday, February 7, 2011

To Judge and Not Judge

Walking with a youngster I know I was suddenly overwhelmed by the harshness of her assessment of a man passing by. I said "you shouldn't judge so much." She said "people deserve to be judged." She's the alpha in the family, so I'm trying to figure out some way she's right. At the age of 13, it's pretty important to be able to size people up I think. It happens at the gut level and takes hold like a steel jaw. Perhaps it's not fair to tell preadolescent not to judge people as they negotiate all the strata of themselves and others to find sound footing in their increasingly autonomous social affairs.

But you can tell them not to judge themselves, when they've failed, and they fail often. The sting of failure gets under the skin like an inoculation arousing parts of their immunity to avoid similar missteps. It's such a long, long painful, curative process. As the proverb says, the righteous man falls 7 times a day, but he rises again. I am in awe of that moment when the paralysis of failure seems to wear itself thin and somehow the morning sun rises again, and though the first ray may be barely noticed, before long the long light is flooding the avenue and we are heartened by the length of our shadows.

We are the shadow and the observer, and as complex beings we have to simultaneously judge and also not judge, and in so doing, keep the judgement from gaining the solidity it needs to grow into a grudge or a prejudice. We can watch our judgement bud, flower, wilt and fall from the vine of our minds when we leave it alone instead of becoming enchanted with it. Does anyone really want to stick it in a jar and pickle it? The judgement did some work, and in someway perhaps showed us ourselves as it sketched parameters that we need to trace to find our way.

Perhaps the judge is too harshly judged, perhaps the judge creates other things besides conflict. Maybe the judge helps us maintain balance. What we really need is an honest judge, that's all. Because there's nothing more heinous than a judge that lies. So maybe it's not really judging that's the problem, but the lying that seems so enamored of it's false superiority. Because we all fall, 7 times a day.


brosti said...

This is something I've thought about a lot, and I've come to the conclusion that "judge" is an unhelpful word in this context. We ask that word to do a lot of different jobs in our language, jobs that often are unrelated. In fact, we sometimes use "judge" to mean things that are practically opposites: "evaluate," and "conclude." We never want to tell our kids or ourselves not to evaluate! Evaluation is a great human gift, not to mention an important survival skill. Conclusions must be reached, preferably with a crack left open for reevaluation if the circumstances or available data changes. The fact that we use "judge" (both as an activity and a role) in our legal system aggravates the lack of clarity with the word. Probably what we mean when we tell our kids (or ourselves) "not to judge" we really mean, "don't prematurely conclude without adequate data." As you point out, however, many times you have to "go with your gut," and our intuitive conclusions are based on information gathered beyond our rational comprehension. Personally I try to avoid the word. I try to remember that evaluation is practically a segment of divinity in our human experience, like our opposable thumbs and facility with metaphor. We can't do without it.

amarilla said...

Yes. I see what you mean, but to evaluate something seems like a very conscious process. To judge, in that most damaging and aggressive way, is a very emotional and automated reaction driven by obscure forces. I use the word simply because it does describe something people do when they seem to enjoy condemning others or some aspect of reality. And then there's all those grey areas between evaluating and judging. I think you're right in discerning that evaluating is a better word than judging for what I was describing, but I wonder when evaluating is tainted with judgement (prejudice, fear, outrage, sanctimony.....)