“Don’t be so judgmental.” You hear it all the time, maybe from some people you know. Many times it’s used as a weapon to disarm you and keep you from expressing an opinion. Other times, it’s used to make you feel guilty for holding an opinion the other person doesn’t agree with. It can be a powerful and effective weapon, because many people back down in the face of it.
But can you survive without judging others? If you have to hire a babysitter for your kids, would it be important to know if she uses drugs, knows anything about childcare, or is reliable? What about a romantic partner? Should we know if the person we plan to enter into an intimate relationship with, marry, or have kids with is honest, abusive, or shares our values and goals? How will we answer these questions without judging them?
The fact is our survival and happiness depend on judging others. Not only in choosing babysitters and romantic partners, but in choosing friends, doctors, therapists, mechanics, financial planners, etc. If you just blindly entered these relationships without judgment, what problems and pain might you encounter?
So, if judging others is necessary, why do so many people react so negatively to it? One reason is that many of us have been taught since we were young that we shouldn’t judge others because we aren’t perfect ourselves. Under this reasoning, we shouldn’t judge Hitler, serial killers, or rapists as evil because at some point in our lives we may have lied to someone or stolen gum from a store. This is ridiculous.
Another reason is there’s a package deal between being what I call “judgmental” and “judging people fairly and accurately.” Being judgmental means judging others before having the facts. It’s judging someone because of how he or she looks, dresses, talks, etc., which is not a basis for judging someone’s moral character. If you meet Bob and he has a buzz cut and you immediately conclude that he’s a neo-Nazi, you’re being judgmental because you can’t discern just by Bob’s haircut what his beliefs or actions are.
To judge someone fairy and accurately is to judge their ideas and actions, placing the major emphasis on their actions. If someone says he’s honest, that’s great, but you won’t know he’s honest (or dishonest) until you observe his actions over time. If you catch him in a lie, then you can judge him as being dishonest in that instance. If he lies consistently over time, you can accurately judge him as being a dishonest person because you have the facts to back it up. This is fair and accurate judging.
Another reason people react negatively to judging is that they’re afraid to be judged themselves. To avoid this, they abstain from judging altogether (at least out loud). “Judge not lest ye be judged,” as the religious saying goes, which means don’t judge others unless you’re prepared to be judged similarly.
The way around this one is to judge yourself first. Judging ourselves is a vital requirement of mental health and happiness. It’s to our great advantage and self-interest to consistently evaluate our own character. This should be done in an honest and gentle way, not in a way of berating ourselves. For example, if your goal is to have a satisfying career, and you identify that you’re not doing anything to make it happen (e.g., getting a degree, applying for jobs, going on interviews), you can change this and begin doing things that will help you achieve your goal. If you never look inward to judge yourself honestly and fairly, you’ll never notice your flaws and be able to change or improve them.
By judging your own moral character first, you won’t be afraid to be judged by others, because you’ll know who you are and what you need to improve. You’ll have confidence that you’re a good person who’s true to yourself, or at least working to become this.
So, the next time someone says to you, “You’re so judgmental,” you can say back to them proudly without a tinge of guilt, “You’re right, I do judge others. But I do it fairly and accurately by judging the facts. I also judge myself first. By the way, your comment ‘You’re so judgmental’ is also a judgment.”