Judgmental? You Be The Judge!

When first meeting someone, we’ve all been guilty of making assumptions and forming preconceived notions about them.  The interplay that takes place between both parties’ verbal, visual, and behavioral cues is what informs our judgment of that person.  We may harbor preconceptions about people, and these can often, and unsurprisingly, be inaccurate.  For example, you may embark upon meeting someone for the first time on a date, or at a job interview, with relatively high expectations based upon facts you learned (i.e. “googling” the person online, or getting feedback from a trusted source who spoke highly of them), only to be left with disappointment.  Or, you may meet someone for the first time with relatively low expectations based upon the facts you learned, and surprisingly find out that you absolutely hit it off.  The point here is that things aren’t always as they seem, yet many of us fall victim to letting our preconceived notions about others get in our own way.

It’s a part of the human condition to ascribe a certain level of judgment, though, based on facts and evidence we discover.  The problem for many, however, is maintaining certain preconceived notions about others as being absolute truths, as opposed to taking the time to really get to know someone beyond the externals.  We’ve all heard the adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and we must make effort to look beyond our own preconceptions of what we assume others to be like, in order to see the whole of that person in a more all-encompassing way.

It’s important to note that this is also a way we process information and make decisions. From a safety standpoint, especially if you are in a situation where imminent harm or danger may be present (think fight-or-flight response, a physiological systemic process that we’ve maintained as an evolved species, to help protect ourselves when we sense danger), exercising good judgment is crucial to survival.  Using our best judgment to make decisions is something we do on a daily basis, and we’re on autopilot as it’s occurring.  For example, you lock the door to your home before you go to work, using your better judgment as a mode of protecting your home from break-ins.  Another example is looking both ways before you cross the street, using your better judgment to protect your own physical safety.  If we are to imagine a world in which we neglected to exercise a healthy level of judgment, then there would likely be chaos in our everyday lives.  In the above scenarios, judgment is absolutely necessary, and a positive thing to embrace.

You might notice that some individuals may start their sentences with a “heads-up” type of statement:  a warning that they’re about to pass judgment on someone.  They may then have difficulty taking responsibility for the fact that they are about to do so, such as,  “I don’t mean to be judgmental, but …,” and then they state their judgment/opinion.  Or they may start their sentence with, “I’m not judging you, but …,” and then you hear their judgment.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we all have opinions, thoughts, judgments, and points of view that will generally differ from person-to-person.  Another example that comes to mind is that of a court of law, in which the judge and jury will make a judgment about someone’s fate, based upon the evidence that’s being presented on the case.  Or how about when you go on a job interview?  You are being judged by the interviewer, as you are also judging them, based on the cues both of you are consciously as well as unconsciously, picking up on.  When you’re on a first date, you’re doing the exact same thing in forming a judgment based upon the interplay of visual, behavioral, and verbal cues, to determine if that person merits a second date.

Many people are afraid to admit that they can be judgmental, for fear of being judged negatively for having made a judgment, not wanting to be labeled with the negative connotations our culture ascribes to the word “judgmental.”  But the fact remains that we all have our opinions on various matters (religion, politics, etc.), and it’s healthy for us to maintain these opinions and judgments on matters we find important.  Instead of claiming that you are a non-judgmental person, it may be helpful to reframe this concept:  you’re a unique individual who has been shaped by your wide variety of experiences, and that the many layers that help define who you are have aided you in finding your own unique voice in this very large, and very opinionated, world.

There is truly nothing to fear when it comes to exercising judgment and sharing your opinion, so long as you make effort to express it in a courteous, respectful, and civil manner.   If you feel that you may be passing judgment on others based on societal stereotypes or bigotry, or out of deep-seated insecurity, or if you’re experiencing negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, or envy that cloud your better judgment, then seeking help from a mental health professional can be a very positive step in your path.


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