Judgey McJudgerson

San Francisco, CA

“I wonder if you know what it means to be aware of something? Most of us are not aware because we have become so accustomed to condemning, judging, evaluating, identifying, choosing. Choice obviously prevents awareness because choice is always made as a result of conflict. To be aware … just to see it, to be aware of it all without any sense of judgment.”  -Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’ve been very much in the mode of judging lately.  I don’t mean that I’ve been judgmental from a moral perspective: gossiping about people, failing to be compassionate, or struggling with empathy.  Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of the innocent form of judging that we do every day.  I’ve been looking at things and saying:  This is good, that is bad.  I like this, I don’t like that.  I will take this one, I don’t want that one.  Or, at a higher level, my assessments start to look more like plans and ambitions with judgments hidden inside them:  I want more of this, I want less of that.  We are on-track, we are off-track.

It seems to be an easy (and fairly non-controversial) thing to make these assessments.

Aren’t they obvious?  (Of course breaking your leg is bad.)

Aren’t they generally agreed up?  (Everyone hates getting stuck in traffic.)

And, importantly, aren’t they useful?  (I don’t like getting burnt, so I will stay in the shade.)

From a pragmatic perspective, judgment is necessary.  We wouldn’t function in the world unless we were willing to make assessments and take action.  But from a broader perspective, there are three issues with judgment that I sometimes forget:

First, as Krishnamurti points out above, sometimes we lack awareness because we are so quick to judge.  We don’t take the moment of presence without judgment before we determine if a rose is beautiful or ugly.  When we decide how we feel about it so quickly, we miss the opportunity to just be aware of a situation.

Second, when we judge without that window of awareness, we forget that we are judging at all.  We go so quickly from seeing the world to asserting our judgments of it.  It’s not that we saw a rose and judged it to be ugly; we simply saw an ugly rose.  We lose consciousness that judgment happens at all.

And third, when we move straight to judgment, those judgments often become capital-T Truths to us.  In reality, all of our assessments are fungible.  None are necessarily right; almost all are, in some cases, wrong.  They look correct from some angles and wrong from other angles.  The rose that is ugly in a bouquet of lively blooms could be poignantly beautiful in a memento mori setting.  Time, place, and situation all play a role in determining the “correctness” of our assessment.  There is an old Taoist fable that illustrates this point:

There was an old farmer who lived on a farm with his family, his crops and his horse.  One day, his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

“Ahh, what bad luck!” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.  Again, the neighbors came to visit.

“Ahh, what good luck!” they exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The day after, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses.  He was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.  Again, the neighbors came to visit.

“Ah, what bad luck!” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The following day, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army.  As the son’s leg was broken, they passed by him.  The neighbors came again to visit.

“Ahh, what good luck!” they exclaimed.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

Bringing it back to my little, less rural world:  Is my line up of conference calls today good or bad?  Is it positive or negative that my friend cancelled dinner tomorrow?  Is it good or bad that the dog puked on the carpet last night?

I’m trying to remind myself that there’s no judgment inherent in any of it.  It all just is.  And the judgment I apply to it is entirely my own creation.




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