JUDGE, JUDGE, JUDGING
You Judge! You’re Terrible!
The absurdity and inconsistency mark the no-judgment era. Values and virtues previously accepted fade when it’s not vogue to assess acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The no-judgment ideology appears progressive given the dark history of ugly bigotry. But a nation, society or group with no accepted values teeters on the edge of destruction. The non-judgment dogma easily spreads—it just sounds good so we pass it along. But when someone violates the judgment creed, we jump to action, pointing out the flaw, their unforgivable careless disregard of decency, “You Judge, you’re terrible.”
For a person to thrive, they must judge—between healthy and unhealthy, supportive and unsupportive, safe and unsafe. We must constantly choose. Choosing requires judgment, assessing the facts, evaluating costs, and predicting rewards. The elements judged intricately weave many factors together, including assessments of others—others intentions, strengths and weaknesses. When a person, new dating partner, family member, or co-worker asks to borrow money, we must judge whether or not to loan the money—this necessitates an evaluation of their character, money management, and integrity. Evaluating their past, we make inferences about their future. This cognitive skill protects carelessly squandering money to swindlers, marrying psychopaths, and divulging sensitive personal information to gossipers.
Repeatedly we lean on these cognitive powers to direct behavior through assessing memories, leaning on learned biases, and then predicting the future. Undetected emotions interject into the process powerfully influencing the resulting action. A constant flow of energy creates impressions in the mind that are stored for future guidance. These impressions push us to cross the street to avoid contact with a suspicious stranger, forego a trip to the ATM at certain times of the day, or refuse to allow our child to spend the night at little Sammy’s house. We don’t know for certain these events pose danger; we suspect a possibility of danger and act defensively.
The judgment process discerns differences, attaches meaning to the differences, and predicts our behavioral choices effect on the future. Sometimes this process his heavily cognitive based; other times unconscious and automatic. The process taps multiple brain functions, integrates information and then motivates behavior. Unfortunately, judgment is imperfect, subject to error, and may lead us astray. Any predictions about people’s character, patterns of events, and personal experience will occasionally be wrong. Life is too complex.
Judging isn’t bad; but individual judgments can be. Inhumane, unjust, and criminal behavior stem from bad judgment. Judgments often are relegated to unconscious and automatic processes to conserve mental processes. These hidden judgments are heavily laden with biases and hidden motivations. Human atrocities live here, justified by self-righteous biases, projecting ill conceived labels derived from isolated and unreliable facts. Fear of differences, painful histories, and ego protection frustrates the judging process, interjecting misguided beliefs into the delicate and influential equation.
While any judgments may be derailed by misinterpretations, faulty assessments and hidden biases, status-judgments are misguided from the start. Status-judgments have a bitter narcissistic flavor. The judgment is not situation directed; but person directed. A situation directed judgment such as the man hiding next to the ATM, creates a situation where we make a reasonable judgment based on many factors to forego getting the extra twenty dollars for our wallet. There is utility to the judgment—our safety. Status-judgments rarely have a definable utility; they are more concerned with social positioning, addressing personal social anxiety-insecurity.
Status-judgments are an outgrowth from personal insecurity and vulnerability. The judgment down-ranks another with the hidden hope of raising our own social position, strengthening personal self-confidence. These judgments are vicious, often extending beyond an individual and projected onto entire groups of people. Racism, persecution, and scape-goating breed here. These zero-sum judgments—I win, you lose—lack forward-thinking utility; no personal or social welfare adjustments stem from the judgment.
Gossip accompanies status-judgments rallying others to acknowledge a public down-ranking, solidifying our own social ascension. This approach to human relationships engenders fear and divisiveness. Evolutionary tendencies and cultural reinforcements encourage these status-judgments. They provide some immediate gratification to the ego but the long-term damage is significant. Relationships suffer, societies destabilize, and fear expands. The obsessive fear driven status ranking impedes pursuit of healthy intrinsic and societal goals—equal dignity being the greatest. Dignity shouldn’t be subject to competition.
Down-ranking another person or group culminates in more destructive emotions. The status ranking involves affixing labels. We identify a bad quality and infer that the quality lowers their worth, legitimizing personal retaliations that deny and destroy personal dignity. Labels are mental heuristics simplifying cognitive assessments. We simply use the label to explain behavior, such as “my partner is selfish.” The heuristic explains a partner’s overall behavior. As behaviors we associate to the selfishness label accumulate, we feel disgust; disgust leads to resentment, resentment to contempt, and contempt to hate. The original label of selfishness to simplify judgments creates a downward spiraling effect; but the original label is very subjective. Everything built on the cognitive shortcut is poisoned by the original label. Disgruntled partners, conniving politicians, and ambitious business people all utilize mental shortcuts, stooping to unimaginable lows to justify weakness, draw support, and attack human decency.
A history of deplorable judgments stained the word, creating a stigmatism. The word ‘judgment’ has a negative connotation; to separate bad judgment from good judgment, some have chosen a separate word—discernment. The problem with linguistics is a new word doesn’t solve the complexity of the issue. No matter which term we use, we are subject to biological and social constraints with any mental act of differentiation. The mental process is subject to error. Culturally the disproven Cartesian theories of dualism still strike a chord; we long for a connection to untainted knowledge. But we don’t magically receiving untainted wisdom from the immaterial world—not through the pineal gland or any other material receptor. We acquire wisdom through accurate assessment of experience; but these assessments are imperfect and subject to personal biases. I worry that by simply discarding a word such as judgment, and renaming the decision making process as something new, christening the appointed word as divine, we ease ourselves of the burden of monitoring the continual flow of judgments, and detecting misguided, incomplete and dignity denying misjudgments.
To protect judgments from error, we must continually reflect on our actions. As we gather wisdom with a gentler disposition, we un-tether ourselves from social competitiveness. Growth in wisdom decreases the bitterness of fear. Continually examine harsh judgments; do they motivate positive future actions or simply boost our social status through down-ranking persie3ved threats? If the judgment and following motivated action has no positive force motivating accomplishment of greater personal and social goals, challenge those judgments.
Life is complex. Choices are difficult. We will never gather sufficient facts to completely eliminate possible failure. We must make choices with limited information. Some judgments have the luxury of time for greater gathering of facts, while other judgments, like withdrawing money from the ATM, we must make quick assessments. We must watch constantly to identify unfair inferences, harmful status-judgments, and self-excusing justifications. We can judge others actions while still respecting their right to dignity.