Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Praise of Being Judgmental

"I'm NOT judgmental!"

It seems to be a phrase most people utter with considerable emphasis and even some vehemence. Many folks even take great pride in "not being judgmental." I should know, I have been counted among their ranks.

But here's a newsflash: You ARE judgmental! We all are.

I'm sure there are those who'll take issue with this (and who have already "judged" these words "offensive" or "annoying..."), but please hear me out.

Think about it: The moment we step out our front door, we start judging. We judge the weather caster because it looks like rain, and the forecast said sun. We judge the postal service, because it's two pm, and there's no mail... and we're expecting a check, and the mail normally comes at noon. We judge the neighbor across the street who's shoveling new gravel into his driveway and looks fitter and buffer than us, or we judge his wife who's cuter and thinner than we are. We judge someone driving a Hummer and five minutes later we judge someone driving a Prius. And, of course, we judge ourselves.

Being "judgmental" is part of being human. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that our survival depends on our judgment skills. "Judgment" helps us choose the right car, the foods we like to eat, and who we sleep with at night. "Judgment" enables us to recognize a "shady character" who's giving off a "wrong vibe," as a result of which we choose to not take a shortcut through an alley where we'd get mugged. If you ask a biological anthropologist, they'll tell that it's all about "pattern recognition," which is just a fancy scientific word for "judging."

So, what gives?

Perhaps the real issue here isn't whether or not we judge, but that "judging" somehow has become surrounded by a huge cloud of negative connotations. The "New Age" and self-help industries have certainly contributed to this, by wrapping any "dark" feelings we may have in pretty paper covered with happy pink fluffy bunnies. And don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of any effort that supports the development of self-awareness and self-growth. I'm just not a big supporter of assertions or claims that I need to turn my back on parts of my basic humanity, in order to be "evolved." But they are pretty much missing the point by saying that all judgment is somehow "bad," and we "should not" judge.

Maybe what's really needed here, is a new vocabulary. Let's throw away "Judgmental" and its negative connotations, and instead embrace "Discerning," meaning that we evaluate and make choices, based on the information we have, to achieve what we believe to be in our best interests. The fact that someone may be "discerned" out of our equation is not about malice, but about choice.

Don't get me wrong here. There are negative expressions of judgment-- prejudice, for example. My point here isn't to advocate that we become negatively judgmental, merely that we don't become empty-headed morons who automatically assign a "bad" label to any day-to-day decision making that doesn't please everybody.