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Are You a Good Judge or Just Judgmental?

How to make reasoned judgments without being judgmental.

Howard was nicknamed “the judge.” He hadn’t spoken to his older brother for three years as a result a minor incident. One of his coworkers said, “He brings to mind a kangaroo court in which the judge eagerly slams down the gavel and shouts ‘Guilty!’ And that’s why he’s excluded from all the social activities the other people in the office have.”

Judgmental, prejudiced and biased individuals make far-reaching pronouncements based on limited information. We all know such people. Their false and extreme generalizations give them away. “Anyone who is rich is obviously a genius and good businessman!” “Hip-hop fans don’t know the first thing about music!” “People from Third World countries are all losers and criminals!”

Most people realize that being judgmental is an unattractive trait. If you look around, you’ll find that most judgmental people are disliked and avoided. The answer to Mom’s reproach, “Why don’t you call your mother more often?” if truthful would probably be, “Because you’re judgmental and tend to pick on me, so it’s unpleasant to talk to you.” When people stop being judgmental, they often discover a level of personal happiness that had eluded them.

Yet none of us can help forming opinions of other people. So how does judgmental thinking differ from making judgments? Judgmental people state their views and observations in authoritative terms; they decree what is right and wrong, what should and should not be, what is good or bad. Making a simple judgment, however, does not carry these ominous overtones. “Billy has poor table manners” is a judgment. A judgmental person would add something such as “Therefore, he’s a slob who was raised by barbarians!”

We make judgments and form opinions constantly: “He’s good-looking.” “She dresses well.” “She seems to lack a good sense of humor.” “He’s overweight.”

In forming opinions or making judgments, there is no moral overtone, no further conclusions are drawn, no inferences are made about the person’s character; we just state our observation, or objectively express our opinion.

As soon as we add “therefore” to the observation, we are likely to be judgmental. “He talks very slowly,” is an observation, “therefore, he must be stupid” is a judgmental conclusion.

If you look out for your own “therefores”, you'll be less likely to sit in judgment over your fellow human beings, which will be all to the good for you and for them.

Also, be aware of presiding in judgment over yourself. Just as we notice what other people say and do, we are also are aware of our own actions. And just as we can form premature and inaccurate opinions of others, this self-reflective process can lead us to feel poorly about ourselves if we judgmentally label rather than objectively describe our own behavior.

Here, too, the “therefore” conclusion is usually the culprit. For example, consider the difference between “I forgot to take out the trash,” versus “I forgot to take out the trash, therefore I’m an idiot.” How would you like another person to state that observation? Clearly, the first way. And just as we would probably feel unhappy if someone pronounced we are an idiot because we forgot to do a simple chore, we tend to react similarly when the judgmental comment comes from our own mind.

So go ahead and make reasoned judgments. But be careful not to connect a sweeping, pejorative “therefore” conclusion after doing so.

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Dear Reader: The advertisements contained in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me. — Clifford

Copyright Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.