“….. it would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.” ― Malcolm Gladwell
The dictionary defines judgment as “an opinion so pronounced; a formal decision held by a court; the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed.” The word judgment has a kind of negative quality to it and when exercised seems to put a person in a mirage of control and power with regard to their words, thoughts and perceptions.
Discernment however is defined as “the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently; the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” Discernment to me feels more like open-mindedness and forethought. It feels empowering because it seems to take into account all aspects of a situation without negativity.
As a life coach we are taught about the top 24 value characteristics and their definitions and how these values are used to strengthen each individual. Judgment falls into the value characteristic with critical thinking and open-mindedness. The definition says, “Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.” I love this definition because it is positive and freeing. I would love to see the word judgment changed to discernment. It also happens to be in my top 5 strong value characteristics of who I am at my core.
Why am I giving you a lesson in judgment?
Well, I recently came up against a very irate reader who felt compelled to voice her discontent to one of my blog posts. In my quick mental response I was thrilled because it meant that I generated so much emotion that a reader felt so strongly as to write about it in a personal email to me. Upon further perusal of her rant I realized that although I welcome all responses with open-mindedness and curiosity the actual response didn’t get specific in any way as to what was so emotional for her or why she felt compelled to write. I could tell it was a rant because the tone was negative and she used capital letters and exclamation points. Courage dear reader….don’t be shy, let your thoughts fly free.
“One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.” ― Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing
Maturity tells me do not provoke the monster. Let the reader have his/her say and move on. Not everything I write is going to please everyone and I’m okay with that. It’s almost like an oath writers take when they go public with their thoughts as happens often with blog posts. I couldn’t help however the questions that kept running through my mind:
How does lack of curiosity play a role in judgment?
When does judgment become negative?
Can curiosity keep judgment at bay?
When my children were little I found it fascinating to watch them learn something new. Their curiosity didn’t always include a question right away but their actions and body language and facial expressions showed their desire to know more and learn something. As they got older and the questions started coming along I realized it was a great indicator that they were ready to understand the answers to their questions. How I answered them was just as important as being open-minded to answering their questions for the age they were at. If I didn’t know the answer we would look it up together. I hope I taught them to always get the facts before forming an opinion or judgment.
As adults I have to wonder when did judgment take a front row seat and relegate curiosity to the back of the room?
The pure definition of curiosity is “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.” I can’t imagine what the world would be like if curiosity didn’t exist; if we just accepted what we were taught or what we read without question or wonder or awe.
“Life is an adventure of passion, risk, danger, laughter, beauty, love; a burning curiosity to go with the action to see what it is all about, to go search for a pattern of meaning, to burn one’s bridges because you’re never going to go back anyway, and to live to the end.” ― Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals
As I get older 2 things are happening:
One, mortality screams louder and louder with each passing day and
Two, curiosity for me means pushing my life to limits I’ve always only been afraid of . Fear now takes a back seat to curiosity. We only have this one chance at life so why hold back from what piques our interests?
So how do we stay curious without judgment?
Here are some ideas that might be of help and interest….
It is human nature to form an opinion about almost everything. Opinions are great but if you don’t have information to back up your opinion, if you don’t show truth and/or facts with your opinion then it becomes judgment and judgment just doesn’t feel good no matter how you look at it. You can still maintain your opinion but be open-minded to new information. My father used to say that the only things that are for certain are death and taxes. I’m not so sure any more about the taxes part but there is no arguing with death although there are people that would argue that they were declared clinically dead and are still alive today so see, even death seems negotiable and curious. The point is that life is open for business and being open is expansive and freeing.
“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” ― Tony Schwartz
Opinions are based on curiosity. Wanting to know the “why” or “how” of something drives our inner self to stay free of judgment for a bit if only because we are learning and growing and seeking truth and wisdom.
Curiosity allows for personal internal expansion. We don’t know what life experiences led someone down a certain path of life or thought and it may not be for us to know but when you are curious about a person and their thought processes, instead of judging without knowing their story or the facts you have the freedom and dare I say responsibility to put yourself in that person’s shoes and imagine what their experiences and feelings are like. This is empathy. Once you can feel what they might be feeling there is no room whatsoever for judgment.
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” ― Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
Curiosity allows for gratitude. Judgment allows for nothing but walls and road blocks. Sure there are times when I look back over my life so far and can more easily find what is missing than what is right with my life; what is a burden rather than a blessing but then I pull back, step out of my own picture and think about what I still want to learn and experience. How can I make those curiosities happen; how can I be grateful for the opportunity to learn and be and evolve as more of who I am? Being grateful for what life has given me so far allows me to seek and learn about what more there is out in this big world.
Curiosity encourages, no demands, relationship. Judgment screams isolation. In his book, Making Marriage Simple, author Harville Hendrix writes, “We are wounded and healed in relationships. We cannot know who we are except in relationships.” This can be a love relationship, a spiritual relationship, a co-worker relationship, a mentor relationship, etc. If we never expose ourselves to the ideas and teachings of others, if we never allow all the many relationships of our lives to peak our curiosities then what are we living for?
“When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity. They turn away from the minutiae of their lives-and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by the desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what they don’t understand.” ― Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
Always be ready to ask yourself if what you are thinking is of a closed mind perspective or open mind perspective. Questions like:
What exists beyond the way I am seeing this?
How can I learn more about this?
Where might there be another opinion or perspective?
We can’t help judging ourselves but judging others is never a good idea. We are all perfectly imperfect and we all have a lifetime of opportunity to hone and chisel and smooth out those areas of our lives that we alone choose to judge to be wrong or in need of repair. Fear holds us back sometimes, okay, lots of times; fear asks us to face our own truths and we don’t like doing that. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see what we don’t like and easy to then pass on that internal hate toward others. Practice compassion and curiosity with yourself and judgment will find it very hard to settle in anywhere. Find a tiny bit of courage to shine a light on your own troubles or circumstances and you’ll see people rally to help you, no judgment.
“You cannot be fair to others without first being fair to yourself. Know that a well-honed sense of justice is a measure of personal experience, and all experience is a measure of self. Know that the highest expression of justice is mercy. Thus, as the supreme judge in your own court, you must have compassion for yourself. Otherwise, cede your gavel.” ― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Judgment is like poison. It alienates others and at times can be contagious. It alienates others by making people not want to be near your constant judgmental attitude. It can be contagious because if you find someone who enjoys judging others like you do then gossip takes root, judgment grows like a cancer and before you know it feeling bad and opinionated without facts become the disease. Staying curious and open-minded is the best medicine for the poison of judgment.
Curiosity creates knowledge. The more curious you are the more curious you become and the more wisdom and knowledge you obtain. Your mind grows, your spirit grows, your conversations grow, your connections grow and more doors to the world open up. Judgment keeps all doors closed. Nothing grows in judgment.
“A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.” ― Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World
Call to Action
Thanksgiving is coming. How can you practice curiosity with gratitude and without judgment? When faced with family and friends that push your buttons how can you come from a curious place and not a gossipy, judgmental place about those people that rub you the wrong way?