Being Discerning Rather Than “Judgmental”

Word-wise, and without additional context, people often don’t seem to make a distinction between passing judgment, and making assumptions.
Using judgment colloquially there is very little difference, however, I think a distinction should be made between them.
If we encourage people “not to judge” that should not be synonymous with “don’t assess”.
Assessing is how we determine things, and in the person to person interactions, when colloquial judging is discouraged, we also need to be able to assess and discern. We need to be able to know, or at least guess at, when a situation is dangerous, when someone needs help, when we should reach out with compassion. How can we learn that?
By assessing; and that’s what discerning judgment is.
Preferably this assessing we do should be based upon our own senses (see/hear/touch/taste/smell), in other words personally attained empirical evidence; and in person to person situations, that’s all we really need.
When you look at a person don’t assume, instead, assess and discern.

I read a post today, a good post by Sue Jones, which was about letting go of judgment.
Thoughts were welcomed so I wrote a comment to Sue on her blog. I wrote too much, like I almost always do, but thought I did an alright job… So I’m going to post it here, along with some follow up thoughts. The comment follows…


When I was younger I did something like this, but because I’m far too polarized, it didn’t work correctly. I felt that all judging was bad, and this lead to me accepting others hurting me in an effort to not judge them.
So I learned another way.
Being literal minded and semantically inclined, the first thing I learned is call those thoughts “prejudice”, rather than “judging”. Judging, should be a process of discernment, and it shouldn’t be a negative thing as it implies weighing the possibilities carefully.
But I use the word “discerning” when I’m evaluating things because “judgement” has baggage.
Prejudice (Aka: Pre-judging, meaning assumptions without discernment) is the thing I really don’t want to do, so I stop thoughts like that, and I examine them. I question myself.
Like: “Why do you think that?” Then I can get to the root of the assumption.
If I determine that it’s ridiculous, then I’m less likely to experience it in future. If I support it with evidence then it’s no longer an assumption, it’s a discerning judgement.

Discernment is a tool to help me know when I should avoid someone to be safe. Like a dude on the skytrain who I felt the urge to avoid, so questioned myself why, and noticed it was because he was staring intently at my crotch. He got called out for groping another girl and the transit police got involved. It was a discerning choice that kept me away from his hands.
Discerning judgement used appropriately.
It’s also a tool I use to determine when I should exercise my empathy, or times when I need to use more. For instance giving parents sidewalk space so they don’t have to hit the grass with kids or stroller, and if I notice my friend not moving I ask them to mind the parent/kids.
Or asking a lady zig-zaging her way up a road, (which just looks like erratic behaviour), if she needs help; turns out she was chasing a lost dog, which she pointed out to me and I tired to aid her in herding it up the hill. Also if I notice someone is being defensive, I ask myself why, and try to be more soft in case it’s a sensitive subject, or they’re having a bad day, and also because maybe I was just speaking overbearingly. (I’m not always good with body-language/tone.)
So I can use my discernment to make myself into a better person too, by striking down assumptions in favour of looking for evidence.

This also means, when I judge people, it’s almost exclusively for bad behaviour I can perceive, or inaction in an instance that clearly called for empathy. I think this is a better way to be, it means that making judgement calls doesn’t become a bad thing when I need it, and it means I can still work to be a better person at the same time.

End of comment.
But I do have a few further thoughts, I’ll try keep it brief.

I think Sue is on the right page and I agree with her, she’s using the term judgment colloquially, and in that usage I agree.
Excepting that I wouldn’t have used the word judgement at all, because, I think the colloquial use does the term judgment a disservice. I think it points us in the wrong direction, away from examining our assumptions, and towards dismissing our thoughts, and with them the ability to challenge ourselves to be better and discern things with reason.
To that end I really do think it’s far more accurate to say those thoughts are assumptions or even prejudice.

While judgement has been made into an unkind term, assumption and prejudice have also started to escape their meaning and become cloaked in nothing but negative associations, almost decoupled from what they actually represent as terms.

Prejudice has gained a nasty specter of nuance around it, in reality it is, as I mentioned in my comment, just “pre-judging”. That is, judging before you could reasonably do so, judging without actually ‘judging’ meaning not weighing things, and judging without considering the evidence. Judging without discernment.
It’s not a good thing, but, it is important to note that it is not inherently evil either.

An assumption is even more shallow, just an impulse thought or opinion without evidence. The first thing you think before you have time or evidence to make any actual judgment-calls, is an assumption. Likewise it’s not inherently a bad thing.
In fact people use assumptions, which are a variety of snap judgment, for fun all the time. They help make comedy what it is, because our first thought can be toyed with, due to being predictable in given contexts that a comedian can set up.
There’s a quote, which I can’t find, so I’ll paraphrase the meaning I remember:
‘The first thought you have is taught to you, the second is your own learned judgment.’
Or something like that.
Which to me encapsulates perfectly why comedy works with assumptions, because we have assumptions in common with others, those taught by our culture, by our shared experience in age, things that aren’t just our own thoughts.
I like the sentiment of the quote anyways, that what we do with our thoughts or ideas once we’ve had them is actually more important than the ‘having’ of them alone.
We make ourselves who we are, and our gut reactions are not “us”, we are the whole, and there is far more after the reaction than goes into the initial spark of a thought, it’s just the beginning. (Tip of the iceberg?)

Recognizing that we assume, or pre-judge, then correcting ourselves when we have, is imperative to acting as better people. Earnestly the is best way I’ve found to be a better person is to examine the assumptions I make, and all pre-judgments, then to challenge them. Uprooting any prejudice in my brain by acknowledging it exists, shining a light on it and demanding better, better like real reason(s) discerned from evidence.
We probably can’t stop making assumptions, but even if we could, maybe we shouldn’t. They are our first thoughts, our first snap-judgment, they are the basis on which we can build our assessment. We just need to learn to rethink and examine them afterwards, preferably as our next thought. Or ‘second thought’, if you will.
What quicker way to better reasoning than questioning our initial reasoning and snap-judgments?

The integral point isn’t just about not accepting assumptions though, I think it is also quite important to know exactly how we should not be handling the subject of judgement, by painting it as inherently negative.
We should not lace into ourselves for judging things, assessing things, or discerning things. That is guilt I wish had not been laid upon me, and which I wish other people be free of.
Accepting assumptions knowingly without evidence, in willful ignorance, is the point at which we should feel guilty, and not before that. Certainly not for being able to use our critical faculties to assess things. Critical faculties which in fact can help us towards bettering ourselves.
All I’m really saying is, judge even judgement itself carefully rather than assumptively.
Let’s make a better world by making ourselves better, let’s be discerning rather than “judgmental”, let’s examine our pre-judging thoughts, and let’s make sure we don’t lump in assessment with assumptions.


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