Thursday, 30 May 2013

Judge and jury

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to judge others, and the more astonished I am that so many people feel qualified to do so. I know so little about other people - their lives, their psyches, their personal struggles, their burdens. Who am I to judge them and tell them what they should or shouldn't be doing?

I know how little others understand about me, about the complexities and subtleties of my personality. I know how often they jump to conclusions, or give me idiotic advice, or turn me into someone I'm not. If others are so bad at judging me, can I be any better when I'm doing the judging? So why not keep my thoughts to myself?

It's easy to over-simplify other people's lives, to think their problems are obvious and the solutions equally obvious. But how much do I really know about the tangle of motives and feelings and compulsions and desires that have made them what they are and make them behave the way they do? My glib views and assumptions are probably laughably ignorant and insulting.

But how often do you hear people casually passing judgment on others, as if it's a totally normal thing to do? "You really ought to lose a few pounds." Or "you could get a job if you tried a bit harder." Or "that hairstyle doesn't suit you at all." Or "you're just too self-absorbed." Why do they think they know better than the person they're dissing? As Laura Mvula puts it "Who made you the centre of the universe? Who made you judge and jury over me?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about people's opinions. Opinions are always fair game, always open to challenge and argument. I'm talking about people's identity, what they actually are. Unless they're threatening my life, that's none of my business.

So be what you want to be. Pure-hearted or wicked. Fat or thin. Hairy or silky-smooth. Lazy or industrious. I'm saying nothing.


  1. It astonishes me when I hear that a childless woman is given unasked-for advice on the matter - if someone doesn't have children it's either their choice and their business, or it isn't and is a source of anxiety and grief, so it isn't for me to interfere. But apparently, people do.

  2. I suppose everyone passes judgment, but the thing to do is to keep it to one's self at all times. Or possibly within the confines of a private gossip session :-)

    I quite often feel judged and it is very hard not to internalize other people's judgments...

    I appreciate, by the way, the fact that you spelled "judgment" correctly! I often see the word misspelled, and can't help but pass judgment on the misspeller ;-)

  3. Z: Yes, there still seems to be a plethora of unwanted comments about children. Fortunately Jenny and I have been largely spared such tactless inquiries.

    Leah: I agree, a private gossip session is usually the best place to air such comments. Some people don't seem to mind frank comments, but I think most people find them intrusive, hurtful or annoying.

    Um, my dictionary says judgment can be spelt either way! And likewise, it can be either spelt or spelled, ha ha!

  4. I think many times that the judging goes hand-in-hand with stereotypes........a fat person must be lazy, a woman who dresses in tight clothes must be a slut, muscular guys are dumb, etc.

    People will judge you based on anything....your religion, sexuality, politics, how many kids you have, your career. It never ends.

  5. Bijoux: You're so right. We all have these idiotic stereotypes in our heads, even though they're usually based on no solid evidence whatever. It's a rare person who sees other people exactly as they are without any of these mental filters.

  6. I think I still judge people asihave always done.....I am just so much better now at exploring those thoughts better and objectively........
    The older we get...the more we should know ourselves

  7. John: So are you saying it's okay to judge people as long as you do it thoughtfully and objectively?

  8. So go on, Nick, spill the beans... Did the mental picture you had of me before we met, fit the person in reality and has that view changed over the years?

  9. Grannymar: Oh goodness, it's a long time now since we met. I really can't remember how I first envisaged you. All I know is that I wasn't shocked and dismayed!! And no, I don't think my view has changed very much since then. I still see you as a shameless muck-raking pensioner, ha ha.

  10. Oh go on, tell me you judge people all the time and so what?

    I won't judge you for it.

  11. I try to keep an open mind as I love people and their motivations, etc., and what drives them. Like yesterday with someone for instance, what a shock, but that's another story.

  12. www: I think that's the key to it, keep an open mind about other people's circumstances and personalities, and then the smart-alec snap-judgments don't seem so sensible.

  13. There are two issues here Nick. I automatically form a first impression when I meet someone and unless I am proved otherwise by subsequent events, those tend to remain with me as judgment of that person's character. I live with it till the relationship lasts.

    The other element is how I am judged. Since it is someone else's problem, I do not let that trouble me unduly. I rarely have had to correct someone's impression of me. I suppose that the other person also follows my formula from first impressions.

    On a different note, the kind of observations that you mention are rarely made to me as my circle of family and friends know enough about me to not pass such remarks in my presence. On the odd occasion that I hear them, I simply ignore them for being flippant and shallow. I don't think that they are serious about them, and it is just their way of making idle conversation. I agree that there are better ways of doing it, but that is the way people are.

  14. Ramana: I think a first impression of someone is a bit different from a passing judgment. It's just a sort of general positive/negative assessment, before you start looking at the details.

    A lot of my commenters say they don't take much notice of other people's judgments, but I do take notice myself, because sometimes the comments are spot-on about something I've never really considered.

    The examples I gave were quite extreme of course, and not many people would have the nerve to voice them!

  15. Yes, and I think some peoples' identities are rather fragile too so these comments don't help much. I usually find that whenever people tell me things about myself, they couldn't be more wrong. In fact, I find myself wondering why I give such an inaccurate impression of what I am really like!

  16. Jenny: Very true about the effect on fragile identities. People are sometimes very wrong about me too, and like you I wonder what on earth I said or did to create such a false picture.

  17. I try to remember that other people all have their problems and that they don't need - or probably even want - my view on anything. It's hard sometimes, but I know how I hate 'interference'.

    I'm trying really hard to be hands-off with the twins and only give advice when it's asked for. So far the parents say we're doing OK!

    I had someone yell at me for running with Sid a short while ago. I suppose that seeing an overweight middle-aged woman running is a scary sight, but they were angry at me for 'making that poor dog run with only three legs'. If only they knew! Sid does much, much better if allowed to go at his own pace, which means I have to run to keep up. Do they think I LIKE it? Good grief...

  18. Jay: Isn't that typical of how people make snap-judgments without bothering to check the facts? What do they know about your dog and what's good for him?