Problems in relationships and business usually boil down to one thing: Bad judgment. Good judgment is in terribly short supply nowadays. Like the overabundance of selections on cable and the Internet, we’re saturated with options and dilemmas, including everyday decisions about the people with whom we want (or don’t want) to associate. Far from being “judgmental,” this freedom is a good thing. You might say it’s the American way, but it’s really the human way.
The channel-surfing mentality in everyday life can work against us when we make snap judgments. A prime example is cutting people off because of how we feel in the moment, rather than because of consistent behavior that might make it necessary to cut them off.
Our emotions make automatic judgments all the time. Sometimes those judgments are supported by facts, and sometimes they aren’t. Our reasoning minds might disagree with these emotional judgments, which tells us that emotions can’t always be trusted. The only way to create an effective check and balance between emotions and reality is — you guessed it — the use of careful judgment.
When we’re drifting from channel to channel on TV and site to site on the Internet, we often do so for reasons even less precise than a split-second emotion could tell us. Since the mind tends to form habits, we get into trouble when we bypass judgment and apply the TV/web-surfing mindset to other matters.
Therapist and psychology professor Dr. Arnold Lazarus makes an interesting point. “… None of us can help forming opinions of other people. So how does judgmental thinking differ from making judgments? Judgmental people state their views and observations in authoritative terms; they decree what is right and wrong, what should and should not be, what is good or bad. Making a simple judgment, however, does not carry these ominous overtones. ‘Billy has poor table manners’ is a judgment. The judgmental person would add something like, ‘Therefore, he’s a slob who was raised by cavemen.’”
Note the word “decree.” A lot of this comes down to tone and style. A judgmental person fails to take into account that facts and logic must support his conclusions, and that the people he hopes will agree with his pronouncements must first be persuaded. In other words, he has to prove it.
Imagine a comedian who tells jokes without paying attention to his listeners’ reactions. Similarly, writers are taught to “Consider your audience.” If you know that you’re right about something, make sure you can prove it. If you haven’t proven it to yourself, you can’t effectively convince others.
Dr. Lazarus goes on, “We make judgments constantly. ‘He’s good-looking.’ ‘She dresses well.’ In forming opinions, there is no moral overtone, no further conclusions are drawn, and no inferences are made about the person’s character. We just have the observation. As soon as we add ‘therefore’ to the observation, we are likely to be judgmental. ‘He talks very slowly,’ is an observation; ‘…therefore, he must be stupid’ is a judgmental conclusion.”
Well, sorry, Dr. Lazarus, but I have no problem with “therefore” — as long as it’s rooted in fact. For example, “Joe dropped out of college because he never studied. He smokes pot every day. He lives off his parents and acts entitled to their support. THEREFORE, he’s squandering his talents and mooching off of others.” I don’t consider that judgmental. Sometimes the truth hurts because people’s actions can hurt other people.
Yet it’s still possible to be unnecessarily judgmental, like when you apply pointless labels such as “stupid” or “crazy.” If you don’t look carefully at the facts, you’re doing nothing more than the mental equivalent of channel-surfing. Snap judgments can easily become judgmental.
Spend time thinking and reflecting. At least once in awhile, put down the smartphone and talk — as well as think — in complete sentences. Now more than ever, critically analyze and verify what you hear on the news, rather than just reacting. Form thoughtful opinions about others’ ideas and what they’re saying. If you make yourself a person who thinks more, your ability to exercise good judgment will increase.