Unequivocally… It depends. Or if you prefer, maybe.
I was asked this question recently (via a comment on this blog), and the thought came to me that – as the questions was directed at me with request for a response – I was being judged.
Nobody likes being judged and it made me a little uncomfortable, even though, in this case the judgement was that I am someone whose opinion mattered.
Anyway, I said that the question suggested a post, This is it.
The question, as I understood it, was about when to be judgemental and when not. Some people manage to live their lives without prejudging others or jumping to conclusions. If you are one of them, you might find two things:
- Asking questions – rather than jumping onto the bandwagon with those who have made up their minds – can cause friction and get you misunderstood. With contentious or emotive issues (terrorism, abortion, capital punishment for example), it can lead to accusations and even threats, simply because you won’t automatically judge.
- Reticence about judging can lead to difficulties when you actually need to judge; there are times when keeping an open mind is not such a good idea.
Our minds need to put things into categories and we do it automatically; good/bad; right/wrong; like/dislike… it’s mostly unconscious and it saves a lot of time. Some teaching suggest that it’s not nice to make judgements about others, and I know from asking lots of people to do it – an exercise I use in my workshops – over the years, that many are uncomfortable about examining the automatic habit of judging others.
But, like it or not, we all make judgements all of the time, though it is possible to train ourselves not to jump to conclusions or give voice to judgemental comments. I expect that with training and self-discipline it’s even possible to refrain from judging people, and this is where it’s risky.
Part of the value of making snap decisions about situations and people is that it keeps us safe. There are time where we need to ‘think the worst’ of someone or something, to avoid wandering into danger. Times when the need for decisive action trumps ‘being nice’ or keeping an open mind.
Ask any therapist and they’ll tell you (without breaking the rules of confidentiality), about situations where people have got into deep water because of an inability or unwillingness to make appropriate judgements.; even in the face of overwhelming evidence they continue to misplace their trust in others, for example.
We cannot truly not judge, nor should we. Being too quick to judge harshly can be offensive, but being overly non-judgemental can cause problems too.
(PS: There could be a whole other debate around whether or not the decision not to judge is actually a judgement, but I won’t go there).