Judgment is not necessarily always harmful. Is judgement helpful or harmful?“Don’t judge me!” could be both a powerful liberating statement and a misguided one creating misunderstanding and separation. Have you ever wondered what judgement actually is? If it is just harmful, then how can we know good from bad and legitimately express our preferences in life and in our relationships? Many of us have a conflicting or ambivalent understanding of judgement. I believe that gaining a clearer understanding of judgment can be extremely helpful and empowering in our relationship with ourselves and with others.
Judgement in and of itself is not harmful or unhealthy. In fact it is necessary for us to know and differentiate things. However, a certain kind of judgement is very hurtful and damaging. We can distinguish between comparative judgement and value judgement. Comparative judgement is useful and necessary, whereas value judgements are unhealthy and can lead into creating suffering for oneself and others.
Comparative judgement: As the child’s mind develops, she learns to conceptualise, forming concepts and thoughts. This requires discrimination and comparing one thing to another. “This is bigger than that. This takes longer to do compared to that. This is closer, that is farther away. …”. Comparative judgement forms the basis of knowing as we contrast one thing with another; and it is neutral by itself. Even when we add our preference to the comparative judgement, for instance “The red toy looks nicer than the black one and I like the red one.”, “This feels good and that feels bad, and I don’t want the one that feels bad.” These are still comparative judgements. They are mostly neutral because we do not have a negative attitude towards the one that we wish to move away from. We simply have a preference, for example for chocolate ice cream but we do not have negative feelings towards the vanilla flavour, we just don’t like it.
Value judgements on the other hand are loaded and weighted. Value judgements are unhealthy because we add a layer of negativity and rejection to the judgement; they usually come with an emotional charge. We might say “This one is nicer than the other one, so it is better.” It might be better for you but it does not mean it is inherently better and the other one is not good. So here a layer of superiority-inferiority value is added on top of the comparative judgement. This extra layer leads to the rejection of the inferior and hence makes the judgement oppositional. We end up wishing and wanting to rid our experience from the inferior or bad emotion or thought or impulse based on this loaded and weighted judgement. This leads to an inner battleground of conflict and rejection of our day-to-day life experiences which would otherwise remain simply experiences.
Therefore, comparisons and personal preferences are fine and necessary; what becomes problematic is when we add the attribute of good or bad to our experience and try to impose it on ourselves as well as possibly on others. It has an internal charge, a kind of aggression associated with it. That is the basis of our inner critic (or judge or superego) which leads to losing our peace of mind and serenity because we live in an ongoing state of inner conflict; rejecting part of our daily experiences and wishing and wanting it was different (better, prettier, stronger, bigger, etc).
When we attempt to impose our value judgements on others too, then troubles, arguments, conflicts, and even wars flare up. My values/morals/family/culture/city/country/race/religion/science/etc is better than yours. And some do not stop there: “Since yours is inferior to mine, you need to change and if you don’t, I will take action to make things right.”
Sometimes the equation could be other way round: “Yours is better than (or superior to) mine.” In this case too, the person is rejecting their experience and would either aspire to become like the superior (envy), or bring them down (jealousy), or feel small, powerless and ashamed in not being able to do anything to change the situation. One may ask how one improves then if we never compare and aspire. Again, there is nothing unhealthy about comparative judgement and aspiring; it is the added layer of superiority-inferiority and the emotional charge attached to it which create problems.
What to do: Well, again we are complex creatures and there is no simple answer. However, one of the most important steps is to recognise the type of judgement we are involved in; is it simply a comparative judgement or value judgement? If it is value judgement, then it has the fingerprints of the inner critic (judge or superego) all over it. Once you notice your (or other’s) value judgements, feel the charge in your body, see it as an attack from your inner critic (or someone else’s judge) and defend against it and try to disengage form the judge.
Hope this has been of some help. I endeavour to offer more on the methods of defence and disengagement form the judge in the near future.
[… For more on the Inner Critic and how to disengage from him/her, please listen to “Freedom from your inner critic” …]