My 20 year-old son Ben says that NonJudgment Day is the dumbest idea he’s ever heard of. A snippet from yesterday’s dinner conversation:

Son: “It makes absolutely no sense. Why would you want people to stop judging? If people didn't feel judged they would stop trying to improve themselves. You might as well call it Loser Appreciation Day. If we want people to be better, if we want them to be motivated to make positive changes in themselves and in the world, we need MORE judgment, not less.”

Father: “I never though of it that way. So let me ask you: Is there a difference between questioning the rightness of someone’s actions and judging them? A few months ago, while you were in the intensive care unit for your bike-related kidney injury, and I was questioning you about why you were more concerned about getting back on your bike than about your health, was that a good thing?”

Son: “Yes. Your questioning caused me to think hard about what I want to do with my life. It spurred me to get clearer about my biking goals and sharpened my resolve to work as hard as I can to achieve them, despite my injury. In other words, by holding my ground in the face of your judgments I became stronger.”

Father: “I think we’re talking past each other. I don’t think it was my judgment that made you stronger. Because the truth is, I didn't actually express much judgment to you. For example, I didn't walk into your hospital room and shout, “Enough is enough already! What kind of idiot would want to get back on a bike after almost losing a kidney!?” I wanted to, but I didn't. Remembering the importance of non-judgment, what I expressed instead was genuine concern about your hurting yourself further by continuing to ride. I told you that I was worried about you. You may have felt that as judgment, but it was actually worry – a true expression of my feelings and my concern about you.

Son: “I don't know. We did have some very cool conversations in the hospital where I felt like you were actually listening and starting to understand me better. But weren’t you judging me?”

Father: “At first maybe I was, but that’s not where it ended for me. As we talked, what I felt more than anything was openness to understanding where you were coming from, and why you wanted to continue riding. Instead of judging you, I listened carefully to what biking meant to you without judging you for it. What if that was what helped you find your strength? Whether or not it did, I feel sure it enabled us to stay close during and after your injury. In other words, what I’m asking is: What if it was my caring and not my judging that enabled you to find your strength?”

Son: “No. I’m not buying it. You were questioning my judgment, which means you were judging me. It was being judged that made stronger.”

I am interested in people’s reactions to this exchange between my son and I. Is Ben right? Is judging good? Is it necessary for positive change? This seems like a very important question for this project, one that I’d love some help with.

6/5/2012 06:34:40 am

I'm going to side with the son here with respect to the hospital conversation. But in doing so I want to also say that judgment is a word that means far too many things to be entirely useful. Any question that we ask of another, any slight disagreement we have, any alternative opinion could be considered a "judgment" in the everyday usage of the word. And from that perspective, the son is rockin' on solid ground in this exchange.

As to the "loser appreciation day" idea, I can't go there. No need to make this black and white and go to extremes. And as often as not, judgments don't help us better ourselves; they also get in the way of us bettering ourselves and making decisions that truly are in our long term interests.

6/7/2012 04:35:23 am

That is a good point about the word judgment and how we often interpret it in everyday usage -- maybe it's just my wasp-y background but I am very familiar with the feeling that even when being asked a neutral question, I am being judged. It is something I still work with -- to hear and to ask questions in a true spirit of inquiry. I find I am always the better when I can stand in the point of being asked a question or asking someone a sincere question. I think, as Sam implies, many of our questions are not actually sincere attempts to understand another but come from anger and frustration and a desire to convince someone of our point of view. What I take from the reading about the hospital conversation is that those were sincere questions. given and received as such and that was their power.

When I think of judgment I think of the negative feelings directed at a PERSON AS A PERSON rather than at their behavior. For example, someone is wearing something I think is ugly, or behaved in a way that hurt me -- I try to not judge them as a person ('what a jerk') for those kinds of things. Their appearance is plain none of my business (as are most things others do) and their behavior, while it may hurt me, doesn't make them BAD. It may mean I choose not to hang out with them anymore, but it doesn't mean they are wrong, simply that as I understand what is likely to happen when we are together, I choose not to be together as much. They are still ok and I am still ok. They are not a loser.

I also have to say that I have never had an experience where I was or felt judged as a person that made me stronger as in 'I'll prove to you that I can'. My growth has only come by accepting that on some level that person who judged me could have a point and believing that even if I can sometimes be what they judged me to be, (or what I judge myself to be) I am still ok.

I think a good distinction is between describing or assessing in a neutral way (ok, it is what it is) and judging (this is not how it should be, you are not how you should be). Who am I to say how things SHOULD be?

Having said all that, here is a question. The anniversary of D day was yesterday. If practicing non-judgment, how do I handle Hitler?

Tina Hanson
8/22/2013 12:48:50 am

Interesting question. How do we handle Hitler non judgmentally? It would seem to me that the type of "judgement" that we usually talk about is tainted with emotion. If I see Hitler as a visionary, a charismatic leader or a military strategist, then what does that say about me? Am I then heartless, cold and unsympathetic? If I don't match that level of atrocity with an equal measure of outrage and anger, am I less human? WWDD - What would Data (StarTrek Next Gen) do? Even reflecting on the fascinating aspects and any innovative outcomes of WWII and Hitler would be judgemental, no? We could simply state the facts with no positive or negative inflections, but to maintain that type of thinking would cause some loss of our "human-ess" don't you think? Are we even capable?
Having said that, I like the notion of Non-Judgement Day. It reminds me to be more tolerant and to remember that blame does not have to be assessed in every situation. yo can still be angry about something that has transpired but not take it out on yourself or the other person involved. Simple example: I remember screaming at my son for spilling a drink on the carpet. Afterwards I thought "I don't get that angry at myself for doing the same thing" I realized that just because the drink was spilled, blame does not have to be assigned. I can be upset that it happened and even then what I am really upset about it that "I" have to clean it up. The next time it happened I didn't scream or yell - I just handed him some paper towels and said "accidents happen to all of us - but when they do we have the responsibility to take care of it" Same point less emotion. With regards then to Hitler - he was not so different from many of us and much contributed to the way things "went down" and I think we have to look at the whole situation as it happened to make efforts to avoiding it in the future. Judging (Blaming) Hitler does not solve any of the problems that we see with the whole situation - It happened, Why, Move on.

I teach Police Academy recruits and this is the ultimate lesson I need them to take away from Sociology - An understanding of people so that they don't let their own judgements reflect in their behavior. Prepare them to anticipate things, understand that perspective but ultimately perform their jobs without judgement, good or bad. We have a different department that deals in meting out judgement :)

12/2/2012 11:34:18 pm

People in this world think to much of judgment is my opinion. They always think that someone is judging them, even when they're not...Examples being women, I am one but I get too tired of my 'sisters'. Men are suppose to lead the house and take care of the woman, not the man stay at home while the woman works like a man. Woman think to lead people too much. Judging can be based on relitivly by other peolpe probably being lesbians or bi or gay. They take their 'leading impact' too seriously and accuse people of judging them. People have their own beliefs and their own myself. You both are right in your own way, but I would side with you better.


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