I posted this on Facebook recently*:
“Ploughing through the shock-value, mud and bugs in the swamp of this gentleman’s lifestyle/behaviour, I was rewarded by the Precious inside him…. Smells like integrity to me – a quality I profoundly respect and admire, especially in ‘the young’. Why waste a second on critical-judgmental reactions? They just age us prematurely!”
I had just read the “life story” of a young man – the story of a life that might have completely defeated most people; but somewhere inside him was a strong seed of what I think of as integrity –enough to get him running his life in a creative way. Kind of inspiring. His first few sentences alone would have provoked a critical-judgmental reaction from people I know – negative enough for them to stop reading.
It got me thinking once again about this ‘critical-judgmental’ phenomenon, and how much this reaction can be a block to our own enrichment. Enrichment so often comes from simply being introduced to a different perspective – which can at times arrive in “ugly” clothing. And I thought about how much this orientation results from concepts of good and bad – a simplistic aspect of many religions.
But it’s not only among the religious; atheists can be even more judgmental in my experience – as if being ‘smart enough’ to resist religion gives us some kind of moral right to judge others. Yet if I got anything out of my religious childhood, it was a belief in the concept, “Judge not that ye be not judged”.
Despite contradictory decades of theorizing about it, only recently did I become truly conscious of my own judgmental tendencies. Just realizing that judging could be a negative characteristic took long enough. I gradually became aware of many tiny ways in which I tended to react self-righteously – a symptom of the attitude – often without realizing it.
Not that long ago, a friend spontaneously shared that she was having an affair. I reacted with righteous indignation. On reflection, I think that was partly because of feeling that the onus is even greater on us atheists to ‘be good’. So right-and-wrong were still a part of my perspective.
Fortunately I have enough imagination to realize that such an experience could happen to anyone – even me. I was embarrassed enough by my reaction to apologize to her.
Any experience that causes us to realize that our own values, our own beliefs, are not necessarily absolute, can help us outgrow judgmental perspectives.
Of course ‘judgment’ has a role somewhere in our lives. But I think, rather than a mindless emotional reaction, it serves us better as a useful skill – a normal part of analytical, or what some would call ‘cerebral’, ways of dealing with life.
Another aspect of all this is how sensitive we can be to the judgmental attitudes of others. In fact, as my feeling of being judged happened less frequently, I realized I had often been ‘projecting’*. As I became less judgmental, I felt less judged.
A close friend and I sometimes joke about which of us is more judgmental. I love that we can do this. Being able to look at our flaws with humour I think helps us feel (uncritically) that we are still lovable – with all our imperfections —
*after reading http://playingyourhandright.wordpress.com/about
**Psychology . to ascribe one’s own feelings, thoughts, or attitudes to others. (dictionary.com)