Thursday, January 10, 2013
Judgment - Big, Bad, Ugly Judgment
We look at someone's situation and say "Well, if I was in that situation I would or I wouldn't....", but that is a judgment on the person's choice. The truth is we don't know what we would do because we're not in that situation. It's easy to sit back and say how someone else should react without knowing the whole story. The truth is we can never know the whole story unless we live it ourselves.
People stay in situations that appear, and sometimes really are, bad for them for a variety of reasons, all of them highly personal. When we heap our judgment on top of them, we make matters worse. We seek to compare our situations with those of others when there is no comparison. Every situation is unique, even those that appear exactly the same.
Even if we go through a similar situation as someone else, it's not the same situation because we bring our pasts with us into every situation. Those pasts affect our decisions and make us see and feel things differently. There are experiences in life that are similar to others and make those who experience them more susceptible to empathy even without going through the exact event. However, someone who has never experienced anything remotely like a particular situation can never really understand it or know how they would react to it. I realize this every time someone offers me a "Well, I would just..." solution to a problem in my life proving they don't really get it. It's hard to not feel judged in those situations. I've started trying to reign in those kinds of comments as I feel the pain of receiving them. I'm trying to listen more and only offer "I would..." comments when asked or at least qualifying them by recognizing how different our life experiences are. I'm not great at it yet, but I'm trying.
During a conversation with a dear friend recently, I'm certain we both felt judged at different points in the conversation. I certainly didn't mean to be judgmental, and I don't think she did either yet there it was. Judgment between two people who love one another. Big, bad, ugly judgment. When judgment enters, understanding and even communication ceases as defenses erect themselves around us.
Sometimes we allow our beliefs and opinions to blind us to anything outside the immediate scope of supporting our point of view. I started out looking to understand an opposing point of view and ended up in a situation where I just felt confused, judged, and judgmental. I wasn't looking to change my point of view or my friend's point of view, but to understand how we, two seemingly intelligent, educated, experienced human beings could come to such radically different points of view on an issue or possibly two or three... I can usually understand the other side's argument even if I don't agree. When this fails me, I tend to seek understanding.
I'm finding, though, there are some arguments which just don't make sense to me. I feel as if we get caught up in beliefs and nuances and what we wish the world was and ignore reality to create a world that fits our viewpoint. There are times I wish the solutions were simple, but, honestly, I think given the state of the world, solutions are complex and need to be balanced with differing opinions. The more dogmatic we are the farther apart we end up. The farther apart we are, the less likely we are to find answers.
We live in a society where what I post on the Internet in Albany, Oregon can be read and felt in Saudia Arabia, Nigeria, England, Australia, Germany, or any place else on Earth and therefore has the potential to affect lives, for good or bad, around the world. Yet we want to remain in an ideology that says our sphere of influence is confined to a city, a county, a state, a region. This is just no longer true.
So, after my conversation ended, I thought about the words spoken. I realized there were times when I took my friends words and applied a colored lens to them because that fit with what I know about other people with similar beliefs. That wasn't fair to my friend because I know in my heart she doesn't hold those beliefs. There were also times when I found her comments about things about which I have first hand knowledge and she doesn't (for which I'm grateful) hurtful though I knew she meant no harm. She's seeing things through her life experience, and I'm seeing them through mine. This makes for judgments that don't always make sense to the other person in the conversation. When we can hear one another and bridge those gaps, we create the opportunity to find common ground and move forward. When judgment enters the picture, the bridge tends to spring a leak if not break entirely.
And this brings me back to the opening line. We often judge other people's circumstances based on our own life experience rather than looking at their life experience and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they did the best they could in the moment. It's easy to sit back in the comfort of our homes with supportive families and friends and vow we'd take an action because that's what makes logical sense yet the truth is we really don't know. Unless and until we can live another person's life, we really have no right to judge their choices, beliefs, or opinions. Yet, it seems we all slip into those judgmental places from time to time. I hope I can learn to recognize mine and stop them in their tracks. I'm working on it...
That said, I refuse to bite my tongue when people pass judgment on me they have no right to pass because if I don't stand up for myself, who will stand up for me?
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted and four books of poetry. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.