I’ve been getting told that I’m judgmental lately. As if that’s a bad thing. When we raise our kids, we go to great pains to teach them to assess a situation and then use their best judgement.
But when adults do it, we see it as arrogance, or a sign of close-mindedness. We take it personally. As if the manner in which someone else judges us actually matters. (Again, we teach our children that it doesn’t, but then take everything personally, as if it does.)
So, let’s get this out of the way: I am very judgmental. And I consider that a very good thing.
Life is a risky adventure. I think of it as an intense mountain climb with varying conditions in which a wide variety of gear will be needed. In the adventure of life, the people with you are your gear. I want gear that gets me to my peaks safely and keeps me comfortable in my valleys. Anything else is, frankly, dead weight and dangerous.
That is the lens through which I judge people.
I don’t judge people as good or bad, as people. That is just silly and meaningless. But I do judge their behavior. Even then, however, I try not to judge it as good or bad, simply as something that I want in my life or I don’t. Likewise with situations, they are not good or bad, simply things that I want or don’t want in my life. And if people’s behavior is repeatedly leading me into situations that I don’t want to be in, I will assess – judge – the behavior and adjust my relationships accordingly.
Is that judgmental? Sure. But if you were going climbing, would you use a harness that you know often failed, just because you would feel rude not using it? Or just because you were sentimentally attached to it? It was your favorite harness, but the threads are weakened and it comes open as often as not; would you use it just because you think you should? Do you think it will treat you differently than anyone else who wears it, just because you should be special? I hope not. And if you would, that is precisely the kind of thinking that I don’t want to be roped into, or depend on as my belay.
And therein lies at least one good rub – maybe even a rope burn. I judge people not only by their own behavior, but by the kind of behavior they willingly accept from others. If someone can’t stand up and say, “that harness is failing, you need new equipment,” then I’m not likely to trust their judgement in our relationships either. Your team is only as strong as your weakest player. You are only as safe as your ability to handle the most dangerous hazards you face. If someone can’t stand up to something that is wrong, what situation will that lead me in to?
Okay, enough metaphors. The people who fill my life not only create the world in which I live, but they help me flourish in it. The energy with which they live literally becomes the energy that fills my world. While I consider all of us to be extraordinary and uniquely wonderful beings, I do not think that any of us are special enough that our patterns will change for each other. Therefore, I look at behavior patterns that predate me, and that involve other people.
There’s that awesome Dave Barry quote, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” Likewise, a person who lies to their lover but tells you the truth is still a liar; they will lie to you.
A person who will take advantage of someone will eventually take advantage of you.
A person who blames others for the situations they are in will eventually blame you.
A person who drops the ball at work or on other relationships will drop the ball with you.
A person who invites drama and revenge in other relationships will eventually do that with you.
A person who is angry at “the system” will eventually be angry at you.
A person who takes no responsibility for themselves will eventually hold you responsible for themselves.
A person who cannot assess a situation as dangerous or unhealthy will eventually expect you to join them in a situation that is dangerous or unhealthy.
A person who doesn’t notice how their behavior impacts others will not notice how it impacts you.
And you will be left holding the ropes, carrying the gear, charting a new course and using up your time and energy to compensate for problems that they created. That’s bad gear to be using in the adventure of life. And it is time and energy that is not spent reaching the vista you’re climbing towards.
Everybody chooses to live their life differently, and unless they are harming other people, that’s fine and dandy. But I do not have to have it in my life. I don’t have to get along with everyone. I don’t have to support and accept behavior that doesn’t jibe with who I am and how I want to live my life. (Ooops, sailing term, not climbing…..)
So yes, I judge, and I adjust course when I see my gear holding me back. I do it because I am the only person responsible for my journey, and having the right gear is an important part of that. I do it because I want my finite time and energy filled with positive, generative and nourishing energy. I do it because I do not want my energy used to implicitly support behavior that I do not explicitly agree with.
I think that’s smart. And I chose to fill my life with smart people who are capable of judging situations just as clearly, because those are the people who can chart a course to somewhere I want to go. They can hold the ropes when I’m feeling weak, and can trust me to do the same.
When you have good gear, and know you are safe, you can do the most wild and crazy things. Without gear, you can look at a mountain. With good gear, you can climb to the top of it. Without gear, you can look at a raging river, with good gear, you can raft it.
Without trust, there’s not much I can do with people. With trust, I can build companies, travel the world (and even have crazy sex) with the knowledge that they will protect me. That matters to me, a lot.
That’s what I’m teaching my daughter. It is not my place to say that someone is good or bad, (and even if I did, why would it matter what I thought of you?) It is not even my place to say that someone’s behavior is good or bad, (and again, based on what, and why would it matter?) The only thing that I can do is decide, “Is this something that I want to define my world and shape my life? Does this jibe with who I am and what I want?”
Anything less would be foolish. After all, I am free to live my life however I wish. With that freedom comes enormous responsibility, that is mine and mine alone. So yes, I judge carefully, and choose wisely. Because I want to fill my life with “amazing.” I only have so much time and space, I chose carefully what goes in it. I use my best judgement, just like my parents taught me.