The Thought Refuse

A Virtual Repository for the Mind

Living In A Non-Judgemental Universe

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Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with a 50 year old housewife when she uttered a phrase I have heard countless times before – “I try not to be judgemental.”  I have always had difficulty accepting this as remotely true for anyone, and it has struck me as a near impossible premise from the first time I heard it said.  For some reason, this time around, it came across as patently absurd.

Let us imagine the daily life of an individual who does not judge.  Lying in bed fast asleep, the alarm buzzes with it’s typically annoying piercing beeps.  Our subject turns over in bed with eyes groggily opening.  He looks at the time, 6:30 AM, and can’t decide if he should tumble out of his bed to get to work.  He’s not sure if earning that paycheck is really worth all the trouble.  Here, our non-judgemental hero would be stopped dead in his tracks.

We all, whether by sociatel pressure or not, make a value judgement as to the total benefit of employment against the effort required to earn a paycheck.  For most, we decide that having a roof over our head, driving a nice car, and being able to purchase those expensive French pasteries we so enjoy are worth the time and energy we put into our jobs.  We judge that money is well worth the time and energy required to earn it.

Let us say that our hero  just happened to accidently roll out of bed and land on his feet without making that value judgement over his state of employment.  Still in a half state of stupor, he can feel a rumbling in his stomach.  From past experience, he knows he should eat something.  He wanders into his kitchen, coming face to face with his refrigerator.  Prying the freezer door open, he is now face to face with a bag of raisen bagels and a box of microwavable waffles.  Which morning treat should he choose?

He purchased both because he finds both to be tasty and satisfying.  But he has a soft spot for the raisin bagels topped with blueberry cream cheese.  It brings him a transcendental high that the waffles simply cannot.  Yet, he doesn’t want to judge which is better on this morning.  He decides he will have both.(Year’s later, our hero is diagnosed with high blood pressure due to obesity.  He suspects it might be due, in part, to the consuming of both the bagel and waffle every morning.)

Part of the morning breakfast ritual includes reading over the morning newspaper.  Normally, this would include skimming over the front page headlines, a light read of the business section, and devouring the latest sports news.  But, being non-judgemental today, he starts with the front page, reading every single article and moving on to the lavishingly boring Home and Garden section, as well as the Job Finder.  Even with no particular need for a new job or formal job training in the nursing field, he meticulously reads every single health care position listed(as well as every other listing).  Because it took him so long to read the entire newspaper and give a fair shake to every reporter, our hero is now 2 hours late to work.

By the time he does arrive at work at a large trading firm, he sits down at his desk to take in the plethora of daily economic numbers so he can be a good portfolio manager.  When it comes to filling his day dolling out trading advice to high profile clients, he hits a wall.

A particular superstar client has come upon some unusually hard times, and needs to shore up his investment distribution to avoid any future stock risk.  Asked what ration of low-risk to high-risk stocks should compose his portfolio, the client received the following answer: “Both would be good.”  His client gaze him a doubly quizzical and infuriating look before storming out the office door.  The firm lost one of it’s best clients, and our hero lost his job.

In an attempt to cheer our indecisive celebrity, former trader, his coworkers take him out for dinner and drinks at an upscale Manhattan restaurant.  Still dressed in his immaculate Italian suit complimented magnificently by a power blue Ferragamo tie, he draws the attention of two equally attractive woman at the bar – one, blonde and one, brunette.  Despite the cajoling of his coworkers, he introduces himself to both women that subsequently backfires when each female is greatly offended by his apparent machismo audacity.

To be sure, our imagery personage had, what we would call, a bad day.  But it was one free of judgement which would please the 50 year old housewife I spoke with.  She would respond here, had I posited this non-judgemental scenario, “Your taking this all too literally.  I meant I don’t judge people.”

A judgement is, at it’s base, a decision – an evaluation of an object based upon an experienced, qualitative stimuli acted upon the deciding individual.  Narrowing the breadth of judgement to people does not inherently alter the judging process, only it’s application.  Our theoretical aversion to applying judgement against other living, breathing individuals exposes the variable which eventually brings us to castigate judgements as a negative act.

There are two types of judgements – positive and negative.  When one particular outcome is perceived to be beneficial, it is a positive judgement.  Conversely, when a certain outcome is deemed potentially harmful, it is negative.  We do not distinguish between the two types when it’s application involves inanimate objects.  If I touch a red-hot electric stove, I judge the extreme heat to be negative and will from that point on steadfastly avoid coming into contact.  The salivating taste of a delicious Fillet Mignon topped with sauteed onions, I find to be satisfying and the next time I happen to be out for dinner, I’m likely to order this dish again.

It is easy(and common) to ignore these basic judgements because they appear universal.  Everyone judges a hot stove to be bad.  However, not all stimulus is received equally across individuals.  I, for one, do not find it remotely appealing to insert mini meat hooks into my back and lay suspending in, what I would call, excruciating pain for hours.  Yet, there are other, albeit a small minority, individuals who judge this to be a pleasurable experience and regularly partake in, what is called, body modification.  There is not a universal aw of interpretation for physical and mental stimuli that we all follow.  For every possible experience, it can always be related as either a positive or negative experience by two different persons.  While I’m adverse to heated metallic filaments, there are others who enjoy branding(another form of body modification).

We have a propensity – a necessity – to make judgements in our daily experiences, in order to keep things moving along.  Positive and negative judgements are passed seemingly without effort when it comes to deciding which book to read next, what dressing to put on our salad, or where to go on our summer vacation.  The area of faux concern is over passing judgement on other individuals.  Curiously, we have no qualms about making positive judgements against others.  Our apprehension manifests itself almost exclusively when it comes to negative judgements, of which we find two interesting treatments.

We are often told something like, “I know he gets upset easily, but try to not to judge him too quickly.  He just wears his emotions on his sleeve.”  A prospective employer would quickly dismiss an emotionally unstable applicant applying for a job in customer relations.  It’s bad for business to throw a time bomb into the client pool.

The same sort of statement placed in non-business, personal relationships is different.  We allow for the immediate suspension of judgement against another person when it does not involve professional pursuits.  A level of leniency is applied.  How many times have you come away with an initial negative impression of someone, only to tell yourself, “I should give them a second chance.”  I suspect our tendency to not jump to a negative judgement, where it concerns inter-personal relationships, to stem from an internal guilt mechanism – we have a difficult time coming to grips with our own harsh actions, let alone silent judgements.

These type of negative judgements concentrate on submissive inference, ergo information gathered from personality traits, language, physical composition, and belief systems.  This type of information is non-definitive in nature, thus we are apt to be uncertain of it’s accuracy and more liable to reserve judgement until more data is gathered, coupled with a propensity to be swamped with guilt at  projecting a potentially inaccurate judgement.

It is quite different when the information is concrete, when we can definitely evaluate the direct actions of another individual.  Empirical action carries with it a far greater weight to it then an off the cuff comment.  You are not likely to give a convicted criminal a second chance and invite him into your home(this is even more pronounced when the action directly effected you).  Any guilt is superseded by the immovability of action, and we can feel confident in our judgement.

Passing judgement is a necessary human endeavor.  We have to be able to prefer one thing over another, otherwise the most mundane exercise becomes a tedious, excruciating undertaking capable of grinding all progress to a halt.  There is, quite obviously, an inherent danger when applying judgements from information gathered from one source and applying it across all possible future sources.  It is this sort of judgement we must be wary of, which so happens to be precisely the kind of judgement my 50 year old housewife made when she said, following her denunciation of judgement, “All lawyers are scoundrels.”

It would take a single incident in which you meet a cordial, affable, and kind hearted lawyer to make that sweeping judgement invalid.  That makes people who refuse to judge the singular, but instead prefer these kind of far reaching judgements deeply confused.  They have it backwards.

We are better to say, “I do not judge an entire category of objects or persons based on one incident.  But I need to make judgements about singular objects or persons based on the information I know about that object or person, in order to get on with things.”  I would hate to try to get through an average day without ever preferring one thing over another.


Written by huxbux

January 18, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Logic, Philosophy

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. Hello

    I agree with the second half of your article. But somehow the first half seems very blurry.
    when you narrate the story of the ‘hero in a non-judgemental world’, the impression I got was you meant the hero is not able to judge or decide or in other words not able to make a judgment.
    But the example you quote of the 50 y old woman- when she says “I try not be judgmental.” I think it generally means “I am trying not to make an error in my judgment by basing my opinion on one instance or one person of that category but I judge that all lawyers are scoundrels” But I don’t think she is trying to say “I am trying not to make a judgment”

    The way the article is started off looks like it is about being judgmental (which I think is a subset of judgment) but the arguments presented seem like they are just about making judgments/decisions for ourselves in our daily lives.

    quick judgment (based on one instance or generalization without investigation) is more prone to be wrong. so one has to have more evidence before issuing a personal final report card towards any person or issue.

    even though we do judge people even with one encounter, if we are open to change it on further evidence, that is being non-judgmental.

    Am I missing something here? can you please explain what is the difference (as you understand) between
    making a judgment Vs being judgmental


    February 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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