(Caution: Of all the articles in this series, this one may be the most difficult to comprehend if read in isolation. The current article is not about the cognitive process of "judgement." It is about adults playing judge between children in bullying incidents.
This is an installment in a series called "Ten Principles for Moral Discipline." They are meant to form the basis of a moral, effective school bullying policy. These ideas are thousands of years old. I am merely applying them for use in today's schools.)
"When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself." –Wayne Dyer
“It is not for me to judge another man's life. I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone." –Hermann Hesse, in Siddhartha
“We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves the way we see and judge others.” –José Emilio Pacheco, in Battles in the Desert and Other Stories
(Credit goes to http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/judgement for the latter two quotations.)
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." –Matthew 7:1-2
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." –John 8:7
"Whenever we act as judge between people, we make them hate each other even more and one side ends up hating us, too." –Izzy Kalman [yours truly]
Judging is a precarious business. Traditional psychology and most religious and ethical systems advise us not to judge our fellow human beings. In my training as a psychotherapist, I repeatedly learned that judging our clients makes it difficult to understand and help them.
It is certainly necessary to make judgments in our routine lives. But as the Hesse quotation above indicates, the judgments should be for our own selves. We need to be especially careful when we judge others.
Despite the warnings of philosophers, religious leaders and psychologists to refrain from judging, few people take this seriously. Today our psychological organizations are encouraging us to identify our fellows who are bullies. “Bully” is not a diagnosis. It is a judgment. It is a determination that the person is an evil being that intentionally hurts others. It has become completely acceptable to demonize people by calling them bullies. Ironically, in our crusade to rid society of bullies, we are becoming the very thing we are condemning.
Even more portentous is when we act as judge between people, determining who is the persecutor and who is the victim, taking the side of victims against persecutors, and punishing and/or trying to reform the persecutors.
Moses Maimonides, the preeminent Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages—and possibly of all time—wrote 800 years ago:
The Sages of old were extremely reluctant to be appointed [as judges]. They avoided sitting in judgment unless they were sure there was no one else as qualified as they, and that the judicial system would collapse if they did not serve. Even then, they only sat in judgment when the community and the elders pressured them, pleading with them to accept the appointment. (Mishneh Torah, Yad Hachzakah, 3:10)
Indeed, wise people are not in a rush to play judge. Judging should be done only when absolutely necessary and left to trained legal authorities.
Taking sides between people is often referred to in psychology as “triangulation.” It is the major cause of hostility between people. It can destroy relationships, families, and organizations. It even leads to intensified violence among nations. The hostilities escalate as each side tries to convince us that they are the good one and the other is the bad one. When we take one person’s side, the other becomes hostile to us as well. Furthermore, we prevent them from figuring out how to resolve the situation with each other.
When we judge the disputes between our children at home, it creates endless sibling rivalry. In most families with extremely defiant children, one parent is trying to protect the child from the other parent. It becomes “divide and conquer” as the child discovers they can do whatever they want and the parents proceed to fight each other. If we do marriage counseling and judge the couple's disputes, they will probably never come back to see us again. Our Founding Fathers repeatedly warned against taking sides in disputes between other nations. It is no different in a school. The disputes intensify as each side and their parents try to get the school on their side.
Consider your lives as adults. Do you rush to a court of law whenever you have a problem with a boss or a neighbor? No. You try to work out the problem with them. If after months of failing to resolve it, then you may decide to take the person to a court of law.
Would you want the judge to be any Joe Schmoe off the street: “Hey, whoever you are. We need a judge. Please come over and hear our case!” No. You want someone who is wise and intelligent, someone who went to law school and studied judging.
When the judge passes verdict, do you and your opponent hug each other and thank the judge for their wisdom? No. The two of you are still mad at each other, and the loser is mad at the judge, too. Judges are not popular people. Even in our own enlightened country there have been judges who were killed by people who lost judgments in their courts of law.
But what do we do when our children have a problem with each other? Do we give them days or weeks to resolve the problem before we play judge? No. We immediately rush in to find out who started it, who is right and who is wrong, and who needs to be punished.
Did we go to law school? Do we understand the intricacies of judging? No. We are complete amateurs. The problems between our children are not necessarily any less complex than those between adults, yet we think we are qualified to judge them.
When we pass verdict between our own children, do they hug each other and say, "Thank you Mommy/Daddy! You were so smart! Why couldn't we think of that by ourselves?" No. They are still mad at each other and one of them is mad at us too. And that one wants to even up the score, so they are likely to get their sibling into another fight to try to get us on their side. Thus, in our effort to make our children get along with each other, we create a state of constant warfare between them.
If I am your parent, I am the most important person in your life. You want me on your side. Why would I want to do such a hurtful thing as judge between you and my other child? Yet most parents do this and don’t realize there is anything wrong with it.
Today, thanks to the lobbying of our anti-bullying organizations, schools are being required by law to play judge between children. The very thing that causes never-ending hostility between siblings at home is being presented as the correct thing to do in schools! Without legal training and without fully understanding the ramifications of what they are doing, teachers and administrators are now required to take on this momentous role.
As a result, tension and hostility within schools have reached unprecedented levels. Terrified of being sued by parents for failing to protect their children, schools get tough against bullies. They try their hardest to investigate every compliant and make sure the bully gets punished. Each child and their parents want the school to judge in their favor. So what begins as a problem between a couple of kids escalates into a feud between families. The school can usually make only one side happy. The losing side hates the school and is likely to complain to the school district or even hire lawyers to sue the school. Then the hostilities—and expenses—fly through the roof.
You may think that you are playing it safe by complying with the law and determining which child is the victim and which is the bully. But you’re not. Many parents have sued schools for ruling that their child is a bully. And the parents often win.
So what should schools do when kids complain of being bullied? We need to remember the purpose of school. Schools are educational institutions, not law enforcement agencies. Their job is not to protect children from the challenges of life but to prepare them for dealing with those challenges. Students deserve to be taught how to handle the challenges of life, including hostility, for they will face it throughout life. When kids know how to deal with each other on their own, the school is spared the need to judge them.
Sometimes, though, it will be unavoidable for the school to judge and punish children. It should do so only when a true crime (harm to people’s bodies or property) has occurred or when the children have failed to resolve the problem with each other. Furthermore, when the school does determine punishment, it should do so morally. That will be the subject of Principle Number Eight.
Transparency Declaration: I declare that I do have a financial interest in a company that offers products and services that may be related to the content of my writings.
Author's Policies Regarding Comments: 1. I rarely respond to comments because I simply don't have the time. If I don't respond to your comment, please don't take it personally. 2. Psychology Today has a strict policy about nasty comments. I believe in free speech and rarely censor comments, no matter how nasty. Every nasty comment by adults––especially by ardent anti-bullying advocates––illustrates how irrational it is to expect kids to stop engaging in bullying.
Read Previous Installments to this series:
Ten Principles for Moral Discipline: Introduction
Principle Number One: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
Principle Number Two: Actions Speak Louder Than Words–Or–Practice What You Preach
Principle Number Three: The Golden Rule
Principle Number Four: Justice Makes Right
Principle Number Five: Love Your Enemy
Principle Number Six: Turn the Other Cheek
We have also created a proposal for a moral, effective school bullying policy based on the Golden Rule. We welcome you to use it, and if you like it, recommend it to your school administration: https://bullies2buddies.com/Essential-Articles-for-Home-Page/proposal-for-a-rational-moral-school-bullying-policy.html