What kind of judge are you?


The overworked judge

I can be quite a judgemental person. And I’m not proud of it. This flaw – as is so often the case – was revealed to me by my partner. But perhaps not in the way you’re thinking. My wife has never told me I’m judgemental – she doesn’t make a habit of pointing out other people’s faults. I’ve just noticed it because my spouse is so accepting of others.

I saw myself in contrast to my wife and my judgmentalism was ugly. I didn’t want to be judging people who were simply going about their own business of being themselves and were not requesting, or needing, my judgement.

Apart from anything else it was tiring. Being a judge is a heavy responsibility.

Nobody enjoys being around a ‘judgementalist’, right? Someone who insists on pointing out all your faults, flaws and failures. Someone who is always prepared to identify your errors in judgement and thinks they know best.
Maybe you yourself are one of those judgemental people.

‘So just stop being so judgemental!’ I hear you shout.
Ah yes, the old ‘Just stop it!’ advice. We all know how well that works.

‘Just stop eating so much unhealthy food!’
‘Just stop smoking!’
‘Just stop spending so much money!’
‘Just stop being so darn good-looking Ken!’
I get that last one all the time and I can tell you, I wish it was that simple.

I’m going to suggest something that may sound crazy.
The way to stop being judgemental is to get better at judging.
You heard correctly. Don’t stop. Just get better at it.
I’ll explore this more in subsequent posts, but first let me change tack for a moment. I think there is a second common problem that is closely related to judgementalism, but at first glance seems to be the completely opposite issue.

The bumbling judge

Perhaps you find yourself frustrated by friends and family who have really poor judgement. You genuinely care about their well-being, but they just don’t seem to be able to make good decisions. And they don’t want to listen to advice.

Maybe you yourself struggle to make good decisions – or any decisions at all? Maybe you ask people for their opinion but then find it really hard not to be offended when their view is different to yours. Perhaps you feel that you’re doomed to always make terrible decisions.

I like this set of statistics offered by psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Prezujic:

‘25% of people on social media have posted something they later regretted, the divorce rate in the US is 50%, and over the past decade the tattoo removal industry has grown 440%’

Of course we all make bad decisions. However, it’s one thing to make a bad choice about what tie and shirt combination you’re going to wear, but another thing entirely to screw up the big decisions. And unfortunately many people make a mess of some of those key judgements.

No regerts about that tattoo

A common problem

I’ve actually become convinced that there is a close connection between being judgemental and having poor judgement.

What is actually going on when we generate unwelcome judgements and critiques of our friends, family, colleagues and total strangers? And why do some of us really struggle to make good decisions or judgements?

The first thing to understand is that there are different categories of judgement. Not every category is suited to every situation. The key, I believe, is understanding those categories and when and how to apply them. If we can master this, it will help us at the same time to stop being critical and to become better ‘critical thinkers’. 

Most of us probably haven’t really thought about this, perhaps because we make so many thousands of judgements every day – many of them instinctively and subconsciously – that we don’t stop and think about what we’re doing.

And for most decisions, that’s absolutely fine.

I don’t need to start analysing my thought processes when it comes to deciding which pair of socks I put on in the morning, or whether I brush my hair before or after I clean my teeth.

But even for such mundane and insignificant decisions, I’m applying one or more of the categories of judgement. I call those categories good, better and right. To determine if an option fits in one of these categories, we need to evaluate it and test it.

Let’s start with the ‘Good or not test’. It evaluates the suitability of an option. Whenever we’re making a choice, we need it to be suitable. You might be torn between two exciting options, but what if you look more closely and see that both are unsuitable for different reasons? Unless you just desperately have to choose right now, you shouldn’t just select the less unsuitable of the two! Part of making solid choices is being clear on what constitutes a suitable choice, and not being distracted by features that don’t matter – those bells and whistles that can distract us from major problems.

The ‘Which is better’ test is about comparing options. If you’ve decided that it isn’t enough to just find a good option, or if you’re put in a situation where you have to choose, then you need to learn how to compare. And at the heart of this is understanding what features or elements are actually worth comparing in order to meet your needs and how to weigh up those different factors.

The ‘Right or Wrong’ test is about testing for absolutes. Is there a right or wrong choice in this situation? And is that an ultimate right or wrong that applies to others and not just myself? Keeping a clear eye on our values can help us make strong choices, but we need to be wary that we’re not unnecessarily imposing our values on other people.

Good judgements require us to choose the appropriate test or tests to apply for each situation, and then apply those tests properly.

If we do this, we can take significant steps towards toning down our judgementalism and sharpening up our ability to make excellent judgements.

We can learn to recognise, by identifying certain cues, which category we are using, and train ourselves to effectively apply the appropriate ‘category of judgement’ to different situations.

Basically, if you get this right, all your wildest dreams will come true.

Well probably not. But there is every reason to hope that you can be transformed from an overworked, unpaid and unappreciated ‘Judge Judy’ to a veritable Athena (the Honourable Member for Athens and Greek Minister of Wisdom. Also the goddess for war and arts & crafts – neither of which are covered in this blog).

When we learn how to judge we can simultaneously become more tolerant and more discerning, which will improve our relationships and our decision-making.

Next Post
Thinking about values

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