Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Go Forth and Judge

Judgement (Noun): 

1. An act or instance of judging.

2. The ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion.

3. The demonstration or exercise of such ability or capacity.

4. The forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind.

5. The opinion formed.

On the whole, judgement seems to be a good thing - a faculty we should develop and exercise. The weighing of circumstances, the summing up of situations, the formulation of opinions distilled from facts and observations.

Judgemental (Adjective):
Of or denoting an attitude in which judgements about other people's conduct are made.

Technically a neutral term, but rarely used as a compliment. We think of judgemental people as those claiming to occupy a moral high ground, looking down on lesser mortals and casting aspersions. We're also convinced that this high ground is necessarily precarious, and secretly hope that someday, it will crack and send the aforementioned judgemental person crashing into the depths that range below.

Dramatic, I know. But interesting. What happens in the space between judgement and judgemental? Why is one good, and the other, not so good? Why are we encouraged to have more of the former and as little as possible of the latter? To put it another way - why do we feel that when it comes to people 'the opinion formed' should not be voiced or acted upon?

Sometimes I wonder whether we are caught in the grips of a courtesy crisis - whether we have spent so much time learning to be nice to one another, that we have forgotten that nice has its limitations. Then, when people refuse to queue or hold doors open or let senior citizens take seats in crowded buses, I realize that I am way off the mark. We are experiencing a courtesy crisis of epic proportions, induced by a lack and not an excess of manners.

The suspicion of judgement(ality) is not about courtesy. It is about something else, a faint but pervasive sense of entitlement born out of the unique contemporary belief that all of us are the Universe's Chosen Ones. Harsh, but true. I've been part of sports days where 'everyone winning' was a mandate and trophies were always shared; heard teachers tell me that intent and intelligence were interchangeable; seen bosses and HR managers read the party line on how teams would have to share responsibilities and rewards. In and of themselves, these beliefs are well-meaning. Put together, they reveal the existence of a belief system that doesn't always distinguish between the world as it should be and the world as it really is. And when you look at it closely, a worldview that requires everyone to win is actually a worldview that means no one is allowed to fail.

Whether we like it or not, we aren't all equal. We are all equally deserving of courtesy, justice and dignity and we should be treated as such by law, government and other institutions. We must have the same rights. But that doesn't mean we all have the same abilities. Some of us are just smarter, slower, nicer, meaner, luckier, richer, prettier, more committed, lazier, chubbier, sillier and wittier than the rest. Some of us are genetically and/or environmentally wired to be better at chess, debate, cricket and kick-boxing (any one, not all of the above). Some of us are dealt golden hands by fate, some of us aren't. What should be is irrelevant. What's fair is irrelevant. It's just how it is.

And because it is how it is, it is OK. I don't mean that we shouldn't work tirelessly towards creating more equitable and inclusive societies. That commitment is a given. But in our everyday personal and professional interactions, it's important to acknowledge that we can't all have it all, no matter how badly we want it. Maybe someone else is more deserving of the glory and the credit. Maybe the fact that they are willing to take certain shortcuts does count for something. Even if it doesn't, what can you do?

The world is complicated and so are we. And once we accept that, we will become more comfortable with our own (and others') judgements. We will reconcile ourselves to the fact that we like some people better than others and respect some people more than others. And we will stomach the fact that some people don't like us very much, either.

We think we shouldn't judge, but we all do. Some of us will judge others on the basis of lifestyle choices, others on the basis of haircuts and music preferences. Others will judge people who judge. Organized religion has institutionalized judgement. So has the Mumbai police, but that's a topic for another post.

So, if you're reading, I encourage you to form your opinions, to articulate them, but not to take them too seriously. Tomorrow is another day and you might have a new perspective - better not to be too wedded to one point of view. Judge recreationally but remember to play (at least a little) nice, because the world is smaller than you think, and nastiness can weigh on you after a while. So try to be better, but don't forget to be. To judge is human.

1 comment:

Priyanka Nayar said...

I have always been a judgemental person. For a brief period in my teens, I wasn't. That was because a friend told me, it's not good to judge one's friends, you should like them for what they are. At the time, I was more open to experimentation, and I thought this was worth considering. Over the next few months, I lowered my judgmental bar, I wasn't wired to let it down completely. Towards the end of the school year, I realised that I should have just relied on my own wisdom, my instinctive prejudices were proven right, I could have avoided a lot of trouble if I had just stuck to them. Long story short, I have gone back to my core nature, just to save myself pain and heartburn. Every once in a while, am proven completely wrong. But I like that, it keeps me on my toes, and widens my criteria :)

Like you said, to judge is human. It comes from deep seated insecurities and experiences. And those who pretend to not do it, are fooling no one!

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