I think we judge. We all judge, meaning we’re all judgmental, even if we don’t like to admit it. And that’s okay—or is it?
I generally think of myself as pretty open-minded. I think people should embrace whatever viewpoints they want to embrace, as long as they’re not channelling those views into harmful actions against others. If I don’t like it, that’s okay; it’s really none of my business.
But do I judge? Sure. Do I judge often? Quite possibly. Is that inconsistent with being open-minded? Not necessarily. But how would that work?
Inside my head voice
I conceptualize an “inside my head voice,” which chatters away about all kinds of things. I don’t pay all that much attention to that sort of mindless chatter; it’s a kind of mental white noise. Judgements and observations coming from that voice often don’t get internalized any further. They also don’t usually get converted to outside my head voice. Outside my head voice changes the way I act or speak towards whoever it is that I’m judging; that may be through vocalization, actions. or both. That, I generally try to avoid.
Because I distinguish between inside my head voice and outside my head voice, I don’t tend to get annoyed with myself over the smaller judgments that spontaneously spring up. I also don’t jump to labelling myself as judgmental or any of the other negative labels that tend to go along with that, nor do I tend to go so far as labelling the other person.
Keeping a lid on it at work
In my work, I’ve dealt with patients who’ve done all kinds of sketchy things and made some really poor choices, but I was very careful not to let any inside my head judgments spill over into the way I treated them.
I had one very psychotic patient who would regularly steal to fuel his drug addiction and would end up in jail on multiple occasions. Did I dismiss him as “just a criminal?” Absolutely not. I quite liked him, actually; he was a fascinating character.
One person who triggers a lot of inside my head judgements is, strangely enough, my best friend. He is probably the quirkiest person I’ve ever met, and he’s got a bunch of weird idiosyncratic superstitions.
He’s also not good with money, and from what I can gather the example he had from his parents wasn’t the greatest. I, on the other hand, grew up with parents who were extremely financially responsible. My friend has a luxury car that his dad encouraged him to lease, even though car-related costs consume most of his disposable income. I judge big-time, and I think he makes some stupid decisions. But does it affect our friendship? No, not at all.
Differentiating groups from individuals
One thing that I think is quite important is being able to keep judgments about a group to trickle down to become judgments applied to specific individuals. I live in a Pacific Rim city with a large population of new immigrants from China. China (along with many non-Western countries, for that matter) has different rules of the road than the largely rigid adherence to traffic laws that happens in North America. New immigrants from China don’t always adjust quickly to driving in Canada.
This isn’t about racism, it’s about wildly different traffic norms. Does that mean I automatically think any Asian-looking person is a bad driver? No, because I can recognize the difference between an individual and group generalizations.
Accepting judgments will happen
I suppose where I’m going with all this is that we’re told that it’s bad to be judgmental. However, to simply dismiss it as something unacceptable takes away the opportunity to reflect and recognize greater nuances.
We all judge, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not. The more we admit and unpack our own judgementality, the more aware we can be of how our own perspective affects our behaviour. Realizing when I’m judgmental makes it easier not to act on it.
Do you think you’re judgmental? What tends to bring it out in you?
Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.