I try not to be judgmental of others, but judging, labeling and measuring others and myself often creeps into my thinking. The legal system and our culture in general seems to “judge” and categorize people and groups all the time. Why shouldn’t individuals? Furthermore, can you really observe and evaluate without judging?
Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1958 song from “South Pacific” reflects how each family has centuries of teaching survival for their way of life.
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught
Two children age 5 present different views for the Golden Rule:
• “Treat others the way I want to be treated.”
• “Do it to them before they do it to me.”
Most of us struggle with negative judgmental thoughts. From birth onward, we learn judgements of good vs. bad. Life experiences and the media often harden our views. Society is filled with subtle and overt judgements. Overt bias headlines differences, starts wars and causes suffering. Subtle prejudice is everywhere: gender, age, race, religion, wealth, physical, education, politics, history. These form lifelong mental health symptoms: anxiety, depression, anger, trauma.
To build non-judgment skills, focus on being objective and fair, taking everything into account. [Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Berkley Well-Being Institute]
• Take 10 seconds to notice where your thought comes from.
• Learn your need for this thought.
• Be curious about your judgmental thought.
• Listen to improve your thoughtfulness.
• Let go of the prejudiced thought until it surfaces again — differently.
Good relationships develop around like-minded thoughts and interests. My father counseled that good partnerships come from similar backgrounds. His home however was a house divided: KU and KSU.
Pamela R. White, LSCSW, has a background that includes 30 years with Head Start and 10 years of research practice about optimizing aging and end of life for the University of Kansas, Ithaca and Kindred Hospice. She has 20 years as a clinician and is currently in private practice in Winfield.
Humans cannot help but to make judgements, and what we need is intelligent judgmentalism — found in three maxims for thinking recommended by Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804).
The famous 18th Century German philosopher made distinctions between judgment, reason, and understanding. He talks about these in terms of three maxims for thinking: “(1) to think for oneself; (2) to think from the standpoint of everyone else; (3) [to] always to think consistently” (Kant, Critique of Judgment, [Oxford UP, 2007], 125). He concludes: #1 can be called “the maxim of understanding,” #2 the maxim of judgment, and #3 the maxim of reason (see Kant, pg. 125).
When it comes to becoming a rational thinker (and Kant will eventually broaden this out to becoming a good citizen), Kant recommends a three-step process.
We ought to first seek understanding, which means being active in terms of knowledge, taking in new information, and evaluating it as true or false. Kant explicitly argues that following the maxim of understanding allows people to fight against their own prejudices — a fight Kant finds worthy for every human being to pursue within themselves.
Second, we ought to think outside of ourselves in order to make intelligent judgments. What does this mean? It means learning to think universally: “an individual of [a] broadened mind … detaches himself from the subjective personal conditions of his judgment, which cramp the mind …, and reflects upon his own judgment from a universal standpoint” (Kant, pgs. 124-125; italics in original).
Thirdly, reason demands consistency. Kant does not use the word “consistency” in the way that the great American philosopher and poet (and admirer of Kant’s philosophy) Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to critique in his essay entitled “Self-Reliance”: consistency as the hobgoblin of little minds.
By “consistency” Kant means that we do not make exceptions for ourselves when making judgments: so the judgments we make about others must be consistent with the judgments we make about ourselves. If we give ourselves grace after having a temper tantrum in public, reason demands that we give others grace for equivalent errors made in public. Understanding, judgment, and this form of reasonable consistency combined make for intelligent judgmentalism.
Jacob L. Goodson (PhD, University of Virginia) is associate professor of philosophy at Southwestern College. He is the author and editor of several academic books. He can be reached at Jacob.Goodson@sckans.edu.
Not long after we are born, we naturally begin to notice the differences in size and shape of things in our environment.
In a few years, we can predict what kind of person should be more successful at a particular task. We can infer that a tall person probably has more capacity to be good at basketball than a short person. As adults we must compare people’s abilities to hire the best one for the job.
What’s the problem? It is difficult to accept, but we are just as selfish as when we were babies.
Why? Because we grew up in a society that celebrates narcissism, voyeurism, and alarming self-centeredness.
And so, we are fascinated with everyone else’s success and failures, not because we care about them personally, but because we are obsessed as to how they compare to us.
Comparing ourselves in this way is devastating to our well-being and to our community. It sadly leads to feelings of inadequacy, or even worse, we can easily mitigate the other’s apparent superiority by amplifying their negatives.
Both are harmful, but it can decay even further so that we look at others as objects to be managed and categorized. We must fight this tendency our entire lives, but you can’t fight something that you don’t know exists. It does.
Instead, use the success of others to inspire you and not to make you jealous and victimized. Use the difference in people and culture to celebrate the uniqueness of each person in spite of the outward measurements.
God made this a diverse world. Be amazed and thankful for our differences and experience that joy. It is OK that you are not the center of the universe, though you feel like you are. You’re still unique. See the beauty in others.
Tim Durham has been the executive director of Family Life Services since 1992 and also teaches developmental psychology at Cowley College. He earned a degree in religion from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., as well as a master’s degree in counseling from Wichita State University. His office number is (620) 442-1688.
In Ethics and Outlooks, local clergy and other “experts” will respond to questions from readers about morals, values and what it means to be human. Please email questions to email@example.com or call (620) 442-4200 ext. 122.