The Coach is In…

“Be curious, not judgmental” Walt Whitman



Judging and Judgmental – Part I

I’m curious as to why I chose to write about judging/judgment after writing about grace and not before. It seems backwards, but that’s the way it came to me. I am more curious as to where my journey with judgment will take me, us.

The word “judge,” as a verb, means to form an opinion or conclusion about. I like that because how I am using the word is about ‘forming.’ Sometimes I assume that ‘to judge’ has a negative connotation, which is not the case.

We are ‘judging’ from the time we are born. We should refer to them as ‘preferences’ (i.e., do I mind a wet diaper, do I ‘tolerate’ noise, does my body ‘process’ well what you are feeding me, etc.). Maybe those ‘preferences’ are just ‘sensitivities’, a precursor to judgments.

From that beginning, our ‘preferences,’ and how we arrive at them, change. We form our opinions, draw our conclusions about people, foods, situations, ideas and events through assessment, comparison, and/or deliberation. You might say our opinions evolve into biases (positive or negative). We make hundreds of these judgments a day. From those judgments we build a matrix of what we value (positive) and what we don’t value (which could be negative, or we don’t have an opinion about). There is an ever-widening span of things that we make judgments about – food, clothing, people, events, places, and environment.

Part of how our biases change/evolve are the result of others (parents, grandparents, significant others (aunts, uncles, friends) telling us (i.e., you should eat this, wear this, share this, be nice, etc.). As we grow, the circle of where information comes from widens and becomes more numerous. Since the advent of the internet (October 1969) the “others” has included an expanse of digital opportunities, as many as you would like.

One of the interesting things about judgment (as in passing judgment) is whether it is designed as ‘punishment’ or for some other purpose, like ‘education.’ If it is for education then it takes the form of discipline. I recall as a young boy of 10, the neighbor boy down the street invited me over to play. We went into his basement. He indicated that they had an old toaster that we were free to ‘repair.’ The tools that were handy were hammers and a screwdriver. Two boys of ten with those tools, well…let’s just say that if you wanted a toaster full of dents then you would have thought that the toaster was fixed.

That evening during dinner dad got a call from Mr. Aaron. The toaster was not an old toaster, but their main toaster. I heard my dad say, “Jimmy and I will be right down.” I explained to dad what Mike had said about it being an old toaster. He asked me, “Did it look like an old toaster?” I said, “No, but I trusted that Mike would know.”

I apologized to Mr. Aaron and promised that nothing like that would happen again. Dad gave Mr. Aaron half the money for a new toaster and apologized.

I don’t remember how long it was, but I was given several “jobs” to pay back the money for half the toaster. This was my education. The hardest part was listening to my dad tell me how disappointed he was in me that I hadn’t demonstrated better judgment.

My judging took on different consequences as I got older. It began to include a ‘natural’ selection process of how I included or excluded – food, clothing, TV shows, places to go, things to do, and people. At some point ‘preferences’ could become ‘prejudices.’ Being raised mostly (9-18) in the 60’s I was exposed to the Civil Rights movement, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. My education was just beginning about ‘exclusion’ in our society, and how my ‘judging’ contributed.

When I started thinking about ‘judging’ and ‘judgment’ it had an innocence to it – it was about how you, me, us creating our preferences. It was a system of natural selection. When did it turn hateful?

I could go into some long explanation of how we all like that which we know whether that is food, environment, things to do…and people. I could even talk about sociology and the tendency for us to gravitate to those who look like us, have the same interests, ideas, etc.

There is a side of us, call it a tendency, that I cannot explain. It is where that which seems an innocent part of our forming our opinions gets ugly. When our opinions become prejudices about excluding others. When we stop treating people as individuals and ‘group’ them (i.e., all Protestants are this, all Jews are that, all blue collar people believe this, LGBTQ are ____, all white people _______, etc.). We assume things about ‘them.’ We fear things that we don’t understand. Depending on how ‘fear-full’ we are there can be an escalation where I’m protecting mine (property, way of life, livelihood) and making sure you can’t do the same.

Along with this seems to be a rationale, the foundation which is, “I’m right!” For some time, my observation would be that I might say “I’m right…and you’re not!” From there, it is a short distance to finding some other like-minded people. Then it is a short distance to believing that “those over there” are a threat to us. Then it is easy to see how actions like storming the capital occur – and people die. And it is easy to see how thousands of people over more than 100 years die because, “they are wrong.”

Is ’being right’ the quintessential position? Does it represent you, me, us at our best? Along the way many have lost the rationale of seeking first to understand and then to be understood. We have lost the ability to have a conversation with someone who thinks/believes differently. In fact, there are increasing/daily examples that the expression of “they are wrong” is more visceral, hateful, and deadly. Where does this level of judging lead? Does the level of discord in our political system represent our society, or is that an aberration? My guess is that our political system does represent a portion of society. I would like to think that there are more people who behave in a way that is more welcoming and inclusive of our differences.

In Part II I will continue my journey with judging and judgment. As I finish Part I one of my discoveries is that I have been on a journey for about two years to make sense of the increased divisiveness I have witnessed in the past eight to ten years (particularly in the past six). It hurts my heart.

I don’t know what additional insights I will discover in Part II. I would like them to be of value to you/me. Until next time.


Toward a better you…


“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”- Dietrich Bonhoeffer