I got blocked on twitter last night. I was discussing (fighting) with a young woman about one’s right to be judgmental. Turns out, she blocked me because she refused to be judgmental about anybody — except me. In reality, we all are judgmental – and this is good.
Without judgement, we would all be idiots. Literally. We would never learn from our mistakes, never build on our experiences, and never develop in any way. Through judgement, we develop our moral compass, our backbone, and our values. The ability to judge right from wrong is perhaps the most essential ingredient in what makes us human.
On a more primal level, we need judgements just to survive. Amazon author Joe Navarro (@navarrotells) teaches the importance of judging body language for self preservation and safety. Turns out that in many circumstances, our bodies judge even before our minds. Without this instinct, we would have no filter, warning us not to engage with dangerous people or put ourselves in dangerous circumstances.
But my twitter spat revolved not so much about this lizard-brain level of judgement. My partner in crime was actually a sex-worker, who was incensed over people judging others’ behaviors negatively, and expressing those judgements online. I’d like to share a helpful distinction that I realized during that discussion (Ok, fight), and perhaps it will be useful for you, too.
There exists a difference between judgement (which we all do), and contempt (shaming another). In his blog at Avenues Counseling, therapist Jonathan Hart, LPC, brings clarity:
Judgment is objectively or subjectively describing something. “I like/don’t like this thing/person”, or “You hurt me when you said…”, or “I like/don’t like how you talked to me.”
Contempt ( which causes shame) makes the evaluation about the being of the person or thing itself. “You are such a fool.”, or, “What is wrong with you?”, or “What were you thinking?”
It is easy to conflate these two concepts, and to interpret a judgement as contempt or an attempt to shame. And it is not only in the way we interpret what we hear, but also in the way we share and express our thoughts.
Consider for example the following statement, which is was at the crux of her dismay. I have crafted it in several ways, each of which moves ownership and judgment from the “other” to the “self”:
Contempt / Shame: “People who are promiscuous are sexually immoral.” This sounds as if you are contemptuously defining the person as an “immoral” person.
Judgement: “People who are promiscuous are behaving immorally.” This implies that you find the behavior immoral, with no direct comment on the person themselves.
Best Practice: “I find promiscuity to be immoral”. This not only takes “people” out of the statement, but prefaces the judgement with an “I” statement, implying it is only your opinion.
If you want to “make friends and influence people” (not to mention stay married), I’d highly recommend staying away from contempt. As a matter of fact, it is one of the leading indicators of divorce. Regarding judgement, unless you are doing it to make an urgent statement, it is also best to refrain.
Perhaps our Jewish Sages express it best when they tell us that we are supposed to judge others, but only favorably.