Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why Shouldn't You Be Judgmental?

Maybe it's just a cultural curiosity, a verbal tic that we all use or hear every day. It goes like this: Don't be so judgmental, or, I wasn't being judgmental.

Whatever it means the term "judgmental" is endemic to the therapy culture. When required to show how the word is used in a sentence, several dictionaries offer: She was too judgmental to be a good therapist.

All therapists aspire to be non-judgmental. Presumably, they expect their patients to learn to be tolerant of all types of human behavior.

If so, they are merely teaching their patients to be socially dysfunctional. You cannot get very far in this world without being a good judge of character.

Most simply, the term calls for us to be tolerant of human diversity. In a more complicated sense it deprives us of our normal human faculty of judging people by the way they conduct their lives.

Let's try to think our way through the conceptual thicket that has grown up around one of the therapy culture's favorite sins.

A man walks into a house of worship. Unshaven, unkempt, and manifestly unwashed, he has been wearing the same clothes for a week.

Should he be judged ill for as much? We would expect that despite his appearance he will be welcomed in a house of worship. God does not care about surface appearances. God's judgment is reserved for more important matters.

Not judging is not the same as not noticing. Like therapists, those who preside over houses of worship will offer help to the disheveled and bedraggled men who appear in their midst.

Someone might say that if you are trying to help the man then you are judging that he has a problem or is in trouble. You are not condemning him for his current state, but you are not merely tolerating it or treating it as another kind of normal.

Now change the situation. A man who is unkempt and poorly dressed-- not quite as bad as the last example, but far from being appropriately attired-- walks into a job interview. Or, he arrives at a board meeting. Or, he shows up for a luncheon.

Then he would surely be judged ill. His outward appearance would elicit a harsh judgment, one that would likely result in his being rejected for the job or excluded from the meeting. It takes very little in the way of bad grooming to get you cast out of more secular groups.

Different worlds, different rules. God's house and Caesar's house do not function the same way.

Let us take a less radical situation. A man explains to his therapist that his girlfriend has broken up with him because she cannot stand his table manners. Faced with this overt example of judgmentalism, what should the therapist say?

Should she explain that this is the way of the world, and that if he wants to sustain a relationship he must stop spraying his dinner companions with food particles?

Or should the therapist try to restore his flagging self-esteem by suggesting that a woman who would reject a man for such a superficial reason is not worthy of him?

Or should she recommend that he explore the infantile traumas or parental insufficiencies that are preventing him from chewing with his mouth closed?

But why should the man's ex-girlfriend have to put up with rude and offensive behavior at the dinner table? You might want to condemn her for being judgmental, but her ex-boyfriend is also callous and insensitive to the feelings of others. Ought he not to suffer for that?

Surely, in a soup kitchen run by a church, the same rules do not apply. And they are different when we are dealing with helping professions. And yet, therapists and coaches need to know which world they want their clients to inhabit.

When it comes to the profane world of normal social interaction, people judge others all the time. They judge them by surface appearances, by their outward behavior, by the way they conduct themselves in social situations. Unless you are doing God's work you will not be able to survive in society without being judgmental.

As it happened, a man of God, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once declared that people should be judged by "the content of their character," not the color of their skin. Which is not the same as saying that you should never pass judgment on another person.

No one would disagree. Anyone who judges people by the color of their skin is not merely judgmental; he is bigoted. But would you cease judging people by the content of their character, that is, choosing your friends and associates judiciously, for fear of being judgmental?

Doubtless you know that when people condemn others for being judgmental, they are often talking about sex. They are saying that all forms of sexual pleasure are equally valid and that we should not judge anyone ill for indulging an occasional or frequent fetish or three-way.

Yet, most people would rather not know what you are doing in the privacy of your boudoir.

While some people cast aspersions on diverse sexual habits because they believe that God would not approve, others do not much care about your intimate relationships, as long as you have the good sense and common decency to keep them to yourself. You are more likely to be judged ill for your indiscretion than your BDSM.

But do the judgmentalists feel that we have the right to judge our mates ill if they cheat on us? Is it judgmental to condemn your mate for indulging the human desire for sexual variety?

Most of us believe that such betrayals are worthy of some kind of judgment.

As I see it, the concept, inflated to become one of the therapy culture's deadly sins, has one other use. Perhaps its purveyors mean to say that there is no such thing as right or wrong except that someone says so. Are they aiming for a kind of moral anarchy where you can feel that you can do no wrong as long as no one says that you have done anything wrong, as long as no one judges you ill?

This assumes that we have no instinctive moral sense, that we do not really know right or wrong, but that these values are imposed on us by societal fiat. If that is what judgmentalism is all about, they clearly we should overcome it.

If it simply means that we should be more judicious in the way we express our opinions about others, that we should be more respectful of their feelings, then it might have a positive side.

If you make a judgment that someone cannot be sufficiently trusted to be a friend or partner, then you owe it to yourself and to him not to express your opinion out loud. But certainly, you must act on your judgment.

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