Monday, April 06, 2009

On Judgment

People don't like being judged. And "judgmental" people are not exactly good company, for most of us.

What is meant by judging someone? Why is judgment unpleasant? Why are judgmental people unpleasant to be with?

To judge someone can mean various things:
  1. To observe something in a person, and express that observation. These judgments look like: "You are an expert in computers", "You don't know much about Australian history", "You look ill", "You are generally late", etc.

  2. To form and express one's response/opinion to an observation of another person, confining it to the observation. These judgments look like: "Your expertise in computers is great", "Your ignorance about Australian history is abominable", "It is distressing to see you ill", "your punctuality is not stellar, to put it mildly", etc. These responses/opinions are based on one's background and values, or the expressed values of the one being judged. These judgments can also be made via intonation and body language instead of by using an additional adjective. That is, one can, with a distressed tone, state "You are not on time."

  3. To implicate motives and intention to an observation. These judgments look like: "You are cruel to say something like that" "It is arrogant the way you show your expertise in computers", "You wanted to see how I would react, so you are late", "You are lazy, that's why you are jobless".

  4. To form and express one's response/opinion to an observation of another person, extrapolating it to the whole person. These judgments look like: "Only a sick person would think like that", "That young man is disrespectful and arrogant, only then could he have made a statement like that", "She is a total fool if she wants to marry him".
It is easily seen that categories (3) and (4) say more about the person making the judgment than the judged. In category (3), it is sensible to politely ask ("How come you are late?") instead of assuming the reason. If the expressed reason is found to be a lie, then again, if no other information is present, it is sensible to ask: "Why did you have to lie about it?", etc. Only if one is extremely familiar with the other person can such a judgment be even remotely plausible. But even then, caution is advisable. As human beings, we have built-in intention-guessing circuits. But more often than not, we guess intentions based on our own moods, not on objective information.

Category (4) is an extreme version of category (3), and is just silly, since the whole person has been painted black with a definitive statement, without giving the other a chance to explain the particular observation. Such judgments are better called vilifications.

For mere observations (and by implication, for all categories of judgments), the following is extremely pertinent:
  1. Does it concern the other person? Or is the person being intrusive? For example, a distant relative might observe and express that one is still single. Or someone might comment on one's bulging waist. Such observations are intrusive ones, even if one is not signaling disapproval. Intrusive observations are usually negative, and are unwelcome because, other than they being bad manners, they are a subtle form of control, and because there is a subtle demand for explanation and defense. Intrusive observations can also be compliments ("What a nice pair of balls!"), and are no more welcome unless there be a degree of familiarity with the person, since otherwise it is just impertinence.

  2. Is the particular observation accurate ("You have not completed your homework"), or is the generalization ("You are always late") justified? An inaccurate observation will naturally sought to be corrected by the receiver. However, if the observation is tinged with hostility or dislike, making it category (2), the receiver can feel miffed at having to explain why it is invalid.
We are now left with category (2) judgments. This is what irks the vast majority of humankind.

In this category, what leads to unpleasantness is the implicit value system of the judge, which may not be shared by the one being judged. For example, a husband may say to his wife: "It is silly of you to spend 3-4 hours everyday listening to music, when you should be socializing." Now, assuming the observation about the wife's daily routine is accurate, the wife will not like the judgment because she doesn't agree with the value the husband is placing on socializing. This is a blatant form of control (as contrasted with a subtle one in making an intrusive negative category (1) observation). This is the judge seeking to impose one's values on others.

People who routinely make category (2) judgments are therefore seen as controllers, and if their values be at odds with one's own values, they are not pleasant company. One has to constantly explain and excuse oneself so as to make them feel comfortable, which is an overhead that only a very loyal friend or family member may be willing to undertake. Other people will just stay away in droves.

Moreover, such people are generally self-righteous, i.e., they defend their value systems as being true, moral and good. They are also routinely hypocritical in their own lives, and are unable to live up to their own values which they too easily prescribe for others. Though hypocrisy is no reason to doubt the observation or even the validity of the value system. A drug-addict saying "Taking drugs is a bad habit" is making a valid statement.

On the other hand, if the value system is shared (the wife has expressed a wish for socialization herself), to decry the judgment ("I will take care of my socialization, you mind your own business") is not consistent behavior (notwithstanding any "fuck off" tone in the words). After all, the purpose of sharing one's values with someone is to enable judgment of how one follows those values oneself. To share one's values, and then ask someone to not judge is therefore to seek a license for inconsistency in one's behavior and one's values.


dadi ma ke kissey kahani said...

“People don't like being judged”

- Because most judgments are not objective analyses which help in growth of the person being judged or provides a feedback to reflect upon. Most judgments are: a. subjective opinions based on what observer thinks is the standard practice( for example cultural, social in nature) and the person being scrutinized an aberration, b. subjective assumptions about a person based on, often, momentary behaviour or articulations, c. conclusions which are prescribed to the person being judged.

However, Observations and feedback which is done for the purpose, lets say, to learn about human behaviour in general or to help someone with an issue is another matter al together.
Of course intentions of the observer will matter a great deal and infact decide the validity of the judgment itself.

When judgments are done in public by social groups, they are often based on not meeting the expectations of the group. In this case, the control for conformity is greater. For example, a person who wears skimpy dresses in a repressive society may be judged as someone with loose morals and may be stamped as a threat.

When judgements are done in a smaller group or between people who know each other, they can be a form of control too, albeit a milder one.

Husband may be making this judgments because ‘he wants’ the wife to participate in socializing instead of listening to music, because ‘he’ thinks so. Sharing of value system for verifying and finding a better model or learning from each other for self-improvement is an ideal reason for letting someone judge you, but one will have to be attentive towards the intentions, for sure.

Please find some time to articulate your views or observations about " on being judged" as well. I suggest you write a parallel post on the blog instead of merely replying in a discussion here.


Swati said...

I found this to be a very interesting post indeed. I had tried articulating some of these thoughts in order to explain to myself and to some others as to what constitutes 'being judgmental' because it's easy to sense that one is being judged but harder to figure out when one is being judgmental. It never fails to amaze me to see how most of us are so finely tuned to sense the former and completely oblivious to the latter. I think I will have others refer to this post in the future.

Btw, it reminded me of some of our discussions along the line not too long ago :-)