I sat at my patio table, deep in philosophical conversation with a young man. He was referring to a man we’d seen earlier in the day riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in the wrong direction. The man had long, stringy, graying hair, a scruffy beard, and his clothes were grease-stained. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in a month. He rode the bicycle lazily with one hand, his seat set low and his legs pumping into his chest. “The world is full of people like that—people who do nothing to live up to their potential. Really, what right do they have to live? All they’re doing is stealing air from everyone else.” Harsh words.
The young man—I’ll call him Steve—feels that it’s each person’s responsibility to make a positive contribution to the world.
“How can you tell,” I said, “that the man is not contributing? After all, we don’t know him. We have no idea what his life is like. Besides, not everyone has had the advantages you and I have had. For all we know, that man could have worked harder than you or me to get where he is today.”
Steve disagreed. His stance was sure and opinionated and hard, born of youth and a limited view of life. And there was probably not much I could have said to change his mind.
I remember, when I was young, being that opinionated and judgmental myself. I think of myself as more open, wise, and less judgmental now. But I wonder, Am I really all that different? We all judge others. We can’t help it. It’s part of human nature, part of how we decide what’s safe, with whom we belong, and how we identify ourselves. And we’ve all been on both sides of the judgment fence: judging and being judged.
This week’s journaling prompts help us assess where we are on the “judgment scale” and take a deeper look at the motivations beneath the way we judge ourselves and others.
- In your own words, define what it means to judge others and what it means to judge yourself. Does judgment have a negative or positive connotation, and why? Now define the opposite of judgment.
- Perform a word association with the word judgment.Write a short poem or paragraph using words from your list.
- What number would you give yourself on the judgment scale, where 10=”highly judgmental” and 1=”highly non-judgmental”? Write the reasons for placing yourself where you did.
- Think of a time in your life where you felt negatively judged by someone else. What were the circumstances? What happened, and how did you feel at the time? How did you deal with it? Now write about a time when you were judged positively by someone. Write about the differences between those two scenarios.
- Think of a time when you judged someone else negatively, only to have your opinion changed later. Why did you think negatively of the person? What were your underlying beliefs and assumptions about the person at the time? Then, what happened to change your opinion, and how did you feel about that change?
- In what circumstances do you judge yourself most harshly? What do you think are the underlying beliefs and emotions beneath this self-judgment? Now, think about times that you’ve been most accepting with yourself? What causes the difference in attitude?
- Write about your friends. Which ones are mostly opinionated and judgmental, and which are mostly open and accepting? How do you feel when you’re with them. Do you influence each other in terms of the way you see yourself and others? Freewrite for ten minutes exploring this topic.