I recently spent the evening watching basketball with a few folks. One of them, whom I am not around very often, kept making comments about the hairstyles of some of the players. “I don’t like his hair” and “His hair looks dirty” were just some comments. When others in the group called them out on how negative they sounded, their response was, “I’m judgmental, but I am not prejudiced.” We tried to push back on how those comments were not helpful, but it was obvious they were not interested in hearing a different perspective, and any attempt to talk about internalized racism would fall on deaf ears. The rest of the evening was uncomfortable, very uncomfortable.
This interaction started me thinking about two aspects of being judgmental. First, I quickly realized that I hold different values around judgment. For them, it is value-neutral. For me, passing judgment carries a negative value. I hear verses like Matthew 7:1-3 and interpret that I shouldn’t presume to judge others. Although I have been guilty of doing so, and still am, I try to recognize that I have a limited perspective on what is happening in anyone else’s life. Furthermore, I read these words of Jesus as prescriptive for us all. For me, this says judgment is not neutral.
This brings me to the second aspect of judgment; concluding judgment is a negative is, in and of itself, a judgment. Sure I could (and have) tried to soften that blow by saying that I am assessing the situation, not a judgment. Yet, at the end of the day, I feel that “workaround” is an exercise in semantic gymnastics. So, in judging judgment, am I being a hypocrite? I don’t know.
What I DO know is that there is a similar paradox around tolerance: if we try to tolerate the intolerant, tolerance ceases to exist. Something about intolerance negates any tolerance a person might have if they attempt to tolerate the intolerant. In my experience, the same is true of judgment. It is as though judgment and intolerance are cancers that grow unchecked unless they are eliminated from our lives, devouring the healthy cells around them and multiplying beyond control.
So this year, I am living into the understanding that my value system, my morals, and my ethics tell me that judging others (and judging myself) is a negative action. I acknowledge that in so doing, I am making a judgment. And, frankly, I’m OK with that.