Room for Judgment

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By Tracy G. Cassels

Lately I have heard “Stop judging” far more frequently than I like.  The idea behind it is that judgment is bad; that we judge actions and people when we shouldn’t, especially moms.  But here’s the thing:  Judgment is how we live.  Asking someone not to judge is like asking someone not to breathe.  We judge everything we see all the time.  We are probably unaware of it as most of the time we judge things to be acceptable or benign and thus we don’t really give it much thought outside of what we see or experience.  It’s the negative judgments that get our attention.

And they do for a reason.

Negative judgments are there to cue to us that someone or some act is not fitting with our moral code (and hereby I refer not just to the more common form of morality but everything that we can deem ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that encompasses a lot) or the way in which we view the world.  Just knowing people don’t like the same things as us changes the way we behave towards them, leading to lower empathy and helping behaviours[1][2][3]; in short, we judge their preferences and act accordingly.  We judge because it helps us inform how we form our in-groups and how we move forward in interactions with people.  Whether we like it or not, we judge for a reason.

To be honest, though, we have a problem with the way judgment is coming across these days.  For one, people seem to believe no one should be judged for anything and so people take offense far more than they should.  In the realm of parenting, people often feel so insecure about what they are doing that someone judging a specific act or even just commenting on an act (even if not to the person directly) makes them feel horrible.  To me, this doesn’t mean we stop commenting or judging acts.  This means we need to find a way to make parents secure in their parenting.  Because more often than not, secure individuals don’t feel judged because someone else believes, for example, that babies shouldn’t be left to cry-it-out.  Even though it means they may disagree with something you have done and that they feel is a act outside their moral code or worldview of what is “good”.  That means we need a lot more education for parents starting before we become parents.  Children need to be an active part of our society and people need to experience the normal behaviour of children before they have kids.  In short, we need to stop being such an adult-centric world.  (As an aside, even our discussion of mommy wars and judging parents ignores the children in favour of the focus on the adult.)

But I believe there are others reasons why judgment is such a touchy topic today.

First, we are living in a strange time when we have access to so many more people than usual and sometimes our heuristics fail us.  What do I mean?  Traditionally, we had our tribe or village or small town with whom we interacted regularly.  When someone did something that bothered us, we had to address it immediately in order to keep the peace[4].  And as groups work best when kept at a relatively small number, tribes would break off if they became too big and towns split off to form new towns.  After which we have our smaller in-group and larger out-groups again (interestingly I remember reading about an unbelievably successful company in terms of worker morale which did this; as soon as the company got too big, it was split into two locations so that everyone always knew the people they worked with in order to promote greater relations – I just can’t remember the name now).  These small groups enable us to know much more about people.  We still form heuristics but they are based on very good probabilities of how people will behave because we’ve witnessed it so many times.

But with the internet, we have access to people we will never meet and may never speak to outside of one interaction.  And we know very little about them.  We encounter a behaviour online in the form of a question or statement and we judge it.  Then our brains do what they do best and find shortcuts to create other judgments.  We use our heuristics to determine the us-them dichotomy that we do at birth[5].  Someone says they use CIO and we go to all the people we know who have done that and come up with a judgment about the type of person who would do that.  Our judgment may extended from the act to the person rather naturally.  So depending on our experience, we may have no real judgment of the person if our experience has been that a wide array of people use CIO and thus it’s not a basis for any comparison.  Or we don’t judge the act itself as being out of our “good” worldview and thus don’t think twice.  Or we may have a very strong visceral reaction if the people we know who have used it have been either what we view as great or horrible parents (sometimes that stemming from our perception of ourselves).  And our reactions come based on these quick judgments.  Which leads to the second problem…

The second problem is, as I see it, how we’ve been treating these judgments.  We’ve gone to one side saying “Stop judging!” or “Don’t judge!”  Which I truly do understand, but does it help?  Imagine your child comes home and says there’s a child of a different colour at school and they don’t want to be friends.  Hopefully everyone reading this would be horrified and probably immediately tell their child they can’t judge people by the colour of their skin.  Okay, but why?  Sadly, the child has had something happen that has led to this judgment.  Simply saying “No that’s bad” doesn’t help them understand more, but it certainly is easier on us.  The harder part is leading them down to why it shouldn’t matter, letting them discover it.

There’s a wonderful documentary on a teacher in a small US town whose class parrots back that it’s not right to judge people for their skin colour, but when pressed on why, the kids don’t really understand[6].  (Us adults aren’t much better at it.)  So she did what has been called the ‘Eye Colour’ Experiment.  And children learned first-hand for a day what it’s like to be discriminated against for something superficial and it was a lesson that stayed with them for their entire lives.  In a town where racism was still prevalent when they were older, they had internalized the lesson of and it was a lesson that stayed with them for their entire lives.  In a town where racism was still prevalent when they were older, they had internalized the lesson of why.

Although that isn’t done anymore and similar experiments can’t be done for many types of knee-jerk judgments we experience and witness, we can use discussion to try and lead people to understand a different perspective.  Socrates was the best at this, which is why this type of questioning is called Socratic questioning.  You ask people questions that allow them to come to the conclusions themselves.  In judgment, I firmly believe starting with the question of “Why does this elicit such a strong reaction for you?” is the best one.  Especially as it’s a question we can start to ask ourselves too.  Without this knowledge, I’m not sure we’re able to go forward and critically think about our reactions and our interactions with others.  Sometimes it comes from talking to the person in question, but often I imagine it comes from discussion and reflection with others.  But critically looking at one’s own reactions or helping others critically look at theirs (if they are willing, which I hope we all can be), can help immeasurably to become not only more empathic and compassionate, but also to broaden our worldview to encompass the myriad experiences out there.

However, being able to go down this rabbit hole of questioning is hard.  And the focus of the third, and arguably biggest problem in judgments today: People really struggle to accept when they’re wrong.  And judgments are often wrong.  Especially our knee-jerk ones.  And if we can’t accept that they may be wrong, we tend to respond in extremes.  If you don’t want to be seen as wrong, we use extreme language because it typically evokes such strong emotions in others that people start to feel similarly or at least believe there’s good reason to feel this strongly.  (And for some people, based on their experience, they may have good reason for them.)  Political propagandists have used this type of language for ages to influence people.  The term “disgust” evokes such strong feelings in people, they often don’t stop to think about whether an act is or is not fitting of that term, they start to view as that extreme regardless.

Imagine, though, we are able to say, “It’s okay to be wrong”.  How would we approach a challenge of our judgments?  A challenge of our knee-jerk reactions?  I’d like to think that by being okay with being wrong, we can learn.  After all, we can learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes[7][8].  Mistakes can be costly but they can provide us with so very much information, if we allow it.  The rage against mommy wars seems to me to be the idea that everyone must be right.  Personally I don’t buy it.  We’re all human and we all make mistakes.  And sometimes we will be called out on them.  By loved ones, by strangers, or even by our own children.  And sometimes others believe we’re erring when, to us, we are not.  Only through discussion can we come to understand, expand our experiences, and change our frames of reference.

And this is where the whole “Don’t judge” fails, in my opinion, to stop these immediate judgments.  “Don’t judge” tells a person that their immediate act is wrong, but doesn’t explain why in a way that often resonates with the person going forward.  And when these judgments are things we don’t have control over yet (if it’s hit you, it’s done, you’ve had your reaction), it can seem ridiculous to hear not to do it.  But discussion of the reaction, the reasons behind it, and hopefully getting a person to think of cases where it may not be the case can help that person move forward.  And isn’t that what we want?

One final thought.  Lately I’ve seen a lot of people come out fully against any judgment… except in case x, y, or z.  People are quick to say you can’t judge one thing, but another is fully acceptable (including judging someone who has made, according to you, a wrong judgment).  I hope everyone realizes we all have different triggers for our reactions and judgments.  We all have different experiences that have brought us to where we are.  So the extreme for one person may not be extreme for another.  And as such, none of us are “perfect” in this regard.  In fact, I don’t even know what a fully non-judgmental person would look like.  Or if that’s even a standard we want to aim for given the role of judgment in the formation of our moral codes, schemas, etc.

I, for one, get a very strong visceral reaction when I hear of anything suggesting babies aren’t being treated with care, respect, and empathy.  Extremely strong.  I have to look at why, but I know some of it stems from being immersed in a culture where it seems that is the normal view of things, that we are so concerned with parents and ignore the outcomes on infants.  And it drives me nuts and I see red.  I will continue to work at it, but I can bet you it’ll happen again.  And I hope if you see it, you’re willing to ask me why I’m reacting so strongly so that I can step back and realize I’m dealing with one individual and not society at that point.  I’ll need it.  So might someone else.

[Image Credit: Terminator 2]



[1] Krebs, D. L. (1975). Empathy and altruism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 1134-1146.

[2] Batson, C. D., Turk, C. L., Shaw, L. L., & Klein, T. R. (1995). Information function of empathy of empathic emotion: Learning that we value the other’s welfare. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 300-313.

[3] Stotland, E. (1969). Exploratory investigations of empathy. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental social psychology, 4, 271-313. New York: Academic Press.

[4] Diamond J.  The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?  Penguin Group: New York, NY (2012).

[5] Meltzoff, A. (2007). ‘Like me’: a foundation for social cognition. Developmental Science, 10, 126-134.

[7] For a nice anecdotal piece from Nobel Laureate Dr. Saul Perlmutter, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/jul/07/rational-heroes-saul-perlmutter-astrophysics-universe

[8] Maxwell JC.  Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success.  Maxwell Motivation, Inc: Nashvill, TN (2000).

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Comments

  1. Melissa says

    You write, “secure individuals don’t feel judged…” I think this is the important point. I’m fully aware that people judge each other, including me. Judgement is a fact I’m aware of. It’s an action that people do. It’s not an emotion I experience. People write so much about “feeling judged” but I don’t think that’s really the right word to express the emotion they’re feeling, since it’s not the name of an emotion. Better words might be, “hurt” or “doubtful” or “angry” or whatever.

    • says

      Excellent point! The terminology may not even be correct. I do imagine people feel hurt or angry by comments from others. And the question of how other people’s opinions influence your feelings of yourself is critical.

  2. Sarah says

    I get your point and I agree: secure individuals don’t get their feelings hurt by people who disagree with them. I do, however, have a problem with using that as an excuse to disregard other’s feelings.

    Saying that “feeling judged” is inaccurate terminology is, in my opinion, a little ridiculous. While it may be true, it appears to be an attempt to shift the topic. Sure, “I feel judged” certainly is an inaccurate statement since “judge” is a verb, not an adjective. But we all know what they mean. The intent behind the meaning is more important than whether or not they got the vocabulary right. I mean, are we talking about people or are we talking about a spelling test?

    Second, there is a big difference between saying “Cry it out is a dangerous or harmful practice because of reasons a, b and c,” and saying “I can’t believe you let your baby cry it out! Do you know how much damage you’re doing? That’s abusive!” Or “Parents who let their baby cry it out should be arrested for child abuse.” Anyone, regardless of how “secure” they are with their parenting decisions, would be angry and indignant at a statement like that.

    Third, the idea that, if parents were more secure, they wouldn’t feel judged, smacks of self-righteousness. The subtext to me, and I assume to many people who “feel judged”, is “If you were as self aware and self actualized as I am, you wouldn’t feel so guilty. If you feel guilty, you must think you’re wrong, you just don’t want to admit it.” It pretty much amounts to making an ambiguous and derogatory statement about someone and then accusing them of guilt when they call you on it, because, hey, you didn’t name anyone specifically. The fact that “doubtful” was thrown out as a possible alternative to the phrase “feeling judged” only serves to reinforce my point.

    All that being said, I agree with most everything I see on this blog. I don’t believe in cry it out, I don’t spank, I baby wear, I do time ins and we bed share. I am supremely confident in my choices. I believe that they are the best way to raise children and I am happy with the relationships that I have with my children because of those practices. When I “feel judged”, I don’t doubt myself. And I don’t feel judged simply because someone disagrees. There is a difference between someone who disagrees with me and someone who blatantly attacks me and/or my children because my choices don’t coincide with there’s. Does this mean I’m not as self-aware and zen as some people? Possibly. But I’m not willing to allow people to use that as an excuse to be rude to me, my husband or my children. And I don’t intend to use that as an excuse for myself to be purposely rude and hurtful.

    • says

      No where did I suggest we disregard other people’s feelings. In fact, I’m saying that we are approaching how we respond to these kind of extreme statements in the wrong way if we want to end them. Even when we hear the extremes that often come from someone’s failure to be willing to be wrong. Simply because we accept that something will happen, doesn’t mean we condone it as “right”. It means we know it’ll happen and now how do we go about fixing it. If we simply say, “Don’t do it”, well, we know that’s not very helpful in the long run (or even short run) at changing how people behave.

      And though you say self-righteousness, I do believe that when we are fully secure in our decisions, when people try to attack, we may be stunned or even think they’re an asshole, but we don’t feel like our decision is wrong. And that’s important. And I’ve seen that in people who use formula, people who breastfeed, people who babywear, people who use strollers, etc. And I admit I use it as my guide because I DO feel doubtful and judged sometimes and it’s in the areas I’ve felt least confident in and it forces me to reevaluate – sometimes for a change, sometimes not. But I use my feelings to these responses as my guide.

      I’m glad you wouldn’t be purposely rude and hurtful. The thing is with knee-jerk reactions and some judgments, neither are others. We assume the intent in malicious and often it’s not (not to say there aren’t assholes in the world – there are – but I’m not talking about them). And it’s not about accepting that behaviour either. It’s about being aware of why it’s coming up and how you might be able to help them see a different perspective and change their behaviour long-term.

    • Melissa says

      I certainly hope that parents, of all people, understand that everyone has valid feelings, even if they don’t currently have the vocabulary to express those feelings. I was not advocating dismissing the feelings of others just because they used the wrong word to express them.

      I think that this “I feel judged!” cry leads to a lot of confusion. Sarah, you write, “Sure, “I feel judged” certainly is an inaccurate statement since “judge” is a verb, not an adjective. But we all know what they mean.” No, actually, I think we often don’t know what they mean. I’m sure sometimes they feel hurt, sometimes they feel annoyed, and sometimes they actually do feel doubtful. It depends on who’s writing. We have to understand their actual feelings if we want a conversation to go anywhere. I think we’re misled in a lot of these conversations when we take, “I feel judged!” literally. We respond, “But I wasn’t judging you, I was just providing a link to a study showing the dangers of blah blah blah…” which is useless, since it doesn’t address the actual emotions that the other person was trying to express.

      • Sarah says

        My above statement was merely a continuation of the idea that was accepted (too readily, in my opinion) that “I feel judged” is not expressive of what the person actually means. I believe that this kind of thinking creates a false ambiguity. There is no doubt in my mind that when someone says “I feel judged,” their meaning is “I feel harshly and unjustly criticized.” There is no way around it; that is what people mean when they say they feel judged. And it’s accurate.

        Why they feel judged is not so readily interpreted from the statement. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with the inner workings of their own mind and has everything to do with the fact that the person they are talking to is being rude, insensitive and intentionally insulting (which is usually the case when I feel judged). Sometimes, they are suffering from cognitive dissonance (thus the inner workings of their own mind are relevant) and don’t know how to deal with that. There’s no actual way to know, unless they are willing to share their feelings with you, which is not often the case after someone calls judgmental.

        Is it necessary to ascertain the feelings and motivations behind an “I feel judged” statement? I think, depending on the motivation of their discourse partner, not necessarily. I do not have the time or inclination to help guide someone through their emotions, especially if they do not want to do it. That’s not to say that I don’t lend an empathetic ear to anyone who expresses anger, resentment, worry, guilt, etc. over something that I’ve said but that is another conversation all together. In the expression of an idea, my responsibility is to provide a concise explanation of my own idea and allow them to digest that as quickly or slowly as they would like. It is only ever my responsibility to ascertain their motivations IF they are willing to engage in that kind of dialogue. Most people, in my limited experience, don’t appreciate that sort of thing pushed on them, especially after they have already been offended. I simply don’t believe that it is imperative for everyone to become amateur therapists in order to have a productive conversation.

        The idea that it is appropriate to try to lead someone through a self analysis is paramount to invasion of privacy, in my opinion, and it is practically a declaration that they are lacking mentally. While that may certainly be the case in some instances, coming unsolicited from a person who is not a professional would be highly offensive to me. Now, I recognize that some people may not find that rude. That’s a difference of opinion and I have to concede that perhaps I fall into the minority there.

        • says

          I have to ask… when someone has simply been rude to me (but I’m comfortable in my choices) I don’t feel judged. I feel annoyed and sometimes even amused (in a shake my head way), but judged isn’t there. I see it when you say you equate judged with being “unjustly criticized” but I do wonder if we’re thinking of something different. Can you give an example of when you might feel this way? I’d like to explore this, if you don’t mind.

          • Sarah says

            I equate the statement “I feel judged” with “I feel harshly and unjustly criticized” because that is the definition. In this instance “judgmental” is the word that I most closely associate with “judged”: who ever feels this way is saying the the person they are talking to is being judgmental. Judgmental is when someone is overly critical, especially in a negative way. I don’t get in a tizzy when a stranger is rude (often times, they don’t even realize it) and I certainly don’t get my feather’s ruffled over stuff that is written on the Internet. I tend to avoid stuff like that as ridiculous posturing. But when family and friends are judgmental of me or my children, I get upset. I usually get furious. Respect and politeness is a big deal for me. People are allowed to disagree with me all day long but the minute someone brushes off my child’s speech delay and my very real concerns about that by saying I’ve allowed him to become lazy by “jumping at his every whim,” I get pretty angry and hurt. Not only is that an insensitive statement considering my concerns for my child’s well-being, it’s an attack on my son, personally. I have also felt judged as a young mother (I was 21 at the time) and strangers would approach me and tell me that I had ruined my life, asked me where the mother of my child was, asked me why I wasn’t in school, I even had regular customers at the store I worked at completely avoid me once they realized I was pregnant because they believed I was a teenaged, unwed mother. Despite the fact that these things weren’t true, that I was confident in my role as a mother and a wife, it was still hurtful and embarrassing. I felt as though I was being harshly and unjustly criticized…because I was.

            I think one thing that we are overlooking here is a person’s need for acceptance. If judgment is a natural and healthy mechanism for creating in-groups, we must accept that people want to feel accepted. That this is also a natural and healthy mechanism for establishing and maintaining a culture. And when this doesn’t happen, despite security and self-confidence, it can be very hurtful. I simply don’t believe that all the self-confidence in the world is going to make someone feel better when a close friend or relative implies that they are a bad parent because they don’t agree with each other. Those are feelings that they can deal with and move past, but they are real, valid and appropriate feelings. I agree: to say “don’t judge” is unproductive and won’t change people’s behavior. Judgment is a natural part of life. But so are the feelings and motivations behind “I feel judged” statements. It seems that your article is saying “Judgment is natural. It’s not going to change so how can we fix the people who are feeling judged.” Either it’s a natural part of society (judgment and feeling judged) or it is a problem in our society that needs to be fixed. Perhaps you meant for your article to mean “What needs to happen so that people who feel judged can move past it.” I admit that I could have wholly mistaken your intent in writing this article.

            One thing that I thought of last night, in regards to bringing our own experiences to our perception, is that you and I are probably on vastly different ends of the parenting spectrum, not so much in our practices but in our associations. I have followed your blog for about a year and get the impression that you probably have a number of friends and associates who are like-minded individuals. The “judged” statements you are receiving are probably from your readers and, since you are part of the majority here, you are the one accused of being judgmental. I can understand the position that you are in and, under that lens, your article is pretty on point. I, however, ignore Internet squabbles as useless (I don’t consider this a squabble by the way, nor have I been angry or felt “judged”), I have very few friends who are like-minded and certainly none who I spend a great deal of time with (they are Internet friends), so I fall decidedly in the minority, thus my defense of the “judged.”

          • says

            From reading the other comment, I can see we are coming at this from two different angles. You’re looking for the piece about how to feel better after being judged. This isn’t that. This is how we can approach people doing the judging in order to get them to reevaluate their statements and methods and hopefully stop making such extreme or knee-jerk reactions. I do believe self-confidence is key in the flourishing of people feeling judged here (and judging actually) which is why I mentioned it, but my focus here was how to speak to someone who as lashed out at you or another.

            As to experience – actually I’m far more like you that you probably imagine, though perhaps not on the same extreme. Lately it’s actually improved with people who had been quite opinionated on my parenting changing their tune as they see my daughter grow and have children of their own, but the harshest criticisms have come from my father and his partner. I admit it never did bother me though. It was annoying in that I just wanted them to shut up because I made it clear they really had no leg to stand on in how I raise my daughter, but other than that, their words and comments did not bother me. Now, my mother was wholly on board (until she died) so that definitely helped matters a lot.

            BUT you are very correct the internet squabbles are one impetus for this article because I keep reading others commenting how someone on a page judged them, etc. and that’s where I feel we need to be clear about how we can approach that, but I do think the questions to the individual judging work in life too. It stems from questions we’d ask when doing therapy with clients when they had a strong reaction to something we’d suggest. Why was it so hard to hear that? Move away from what we were asking them to consider and just focus on the reaction. I do believe the same can work here. And as I said, it may not be at that moment or by the person who was unfortunately at the receiving end of being judged, but if conversation can happen to get at why a person feels so strongly to respond so extremely, I think we can help move people forward in their thinking – and by moving forward, I simply mean opening up their eyes to different experiences and reasons for behaviour so that their schema is bigger and these reactions stop being automatic.

        • Melissa says

          I don’t know how much my comment will help the subject at hand, but I do want to clarify a point of language.

          Sarah, you say, “There is no doubt in my mind that when someone says “I feel judged,” their meaning is “I feel harshly and unjustly criticized.” ” Sorry, but “harshly and unjustly criticized” isn’t a feeling either. It’s an accusation about someone else’s actions, that doesn’t actually tell us anything about the feelings of the person writing it (besides the obvious that they must be unpleasant feelings, or they wouldn’t be complaining about them.)

          We’re all so used to a particular sentence structure, it takes some thought to realize how odd it is. This sentence structure goes, “I feel X” where X isn’t a feeling at all, but is an accusation that someone else has committed a bad deed. This doesn’t lead to understanding or discussion of feelings, just defensiveness and more accusations about whether the accused actually committed the bad deed or not.

          There certainly have been times I’ve been judged, and harshly criticized. I’ve been told in person that my jeans are unfashionable. There’s a video of me on youtube (being interviewed on a subject I’m an expert on), with comments below it saying that if I were blonde, I might be worth sleeping with, but as a brunette I’m too ugly to consider. My feelings about these judgements? Amusement. LMAO, actually. I assume that when people complain, “I feel judged!” that the feelings they’re having are not the same as the feelings I have when I’m judged like this.

          • Sarah says

            We can quibble all day long about grammar and syntax. From a purely grammatical stance, I agree with you “I feel x,” when “x” is not a feeling is grammatically incorrect. And no, when you think about it that way, it doesn’t make sense. However, I believe that to invalidate the statement, to pretend that it is ambiguous when, since “we are all so used to” this type of sentence structure, is being needlessly pedantic.

            Forgive me, but I find your interpretation of the “I feel judged” as an accusation of which a person may or may not be guilty of a little defensive. In discourse, we are obligated to make sure that a person’s perception is as close as possible to our intention. Why is “I feel judged” an accusation of wrong doing rather than a declaration, albeit not a very specific one, that their perception is not matching up with your intention? If you are not willing to accept responsibility for the fact that your words may be misinterpreted and cause hurt feelings, why are you having conversations like this to begin with? Just a thought.

            I understand why you are sticking to your stance. I believe, though, that this is becoming needlessly caught up in precision and formalism. I don’t believe that making sure everyone is using adjectives in the appropriate places is necessary for understanding. Communication is a mutual discourse; it’s purpose is to find a common ground of understanding. Attacking someone’s vocabulary, diction and syntax is not a productive communication technique. Thus, I cannot agree with you.

          • Melissa says

            Sarah, I’m not pretending that “I feel judged!” is an ambiguous statement. I know for a fact that’s an ambiguous statement. There are many possible interpretations, and one person literally cannot know what another person means by it, unless they know each other fairly well. The person making this statement clearly is unhappy, but we simply cannot know what kind of unhappiness that is (annoyance, guilt, anger) without gathering more information.

            Of course, this doesn’t mean that anyone should go around correcting other people’s word choice unless they’ve been asked to do so. Neither does it mean that we should necessarily ask questions to gather information that the other person might not want to share.

            I’m with you up to a point that we’re responsible not just for what our words mean to us, but how they’re interpreted by others. But I’ve gotten the “I feel judged!” thing (or its variants, like, “How dare you call me a terrible mother!?) when all I’ve done has been to provide a link to some study showing the different health outcomes of formula and breastfed babies. Is there a way to present this information in a way that doesn’t elicit this response?

      • says

        That’s a great point Melissa about the feelings and how judgment can lead to very different feelings by different people. That is clearly something I overlooked. Must ponder this.

        • Sarah says

          Melissa,

          I’m afraid I’ve upset you. I am sorry. That was never my intention. I simply disagree as to the ambiguity of the statement. For me, knowing that they are unhappy is enough. Clearly, you believe that it is imperative to know the exact flavor of their unhappiness. I quite amicably disagree and I will leave it at that. I hope that you are not too upset at our exchange. I enjoy hashing these sorts of things out, elaborating and examining my own opinions in correlation with the opinions of others, as well as seeing new perspectives and interpretations. I hope that my overzealousness did not leave a bad taste in your mouth. :)

          Since you asked a specific question, I will give you a specific answer, though I get the impression that your question was merely rhetorical. When you give out this information, do people ask for it? Do you find out someone is formula feeding instead of breastfeeding and, on a whim, give them information that they did not ask for? Do you know why these women did not breastfeed or are choosing not to breastfeed? When I meet someone who does not agree with me, and I feel compelled to offer them information, I usually ask if they are willing to receive it. If they are not, I don’t give it to them.

          To be kind is more important than being right. I believe this. I believe that, if I have caused harm to someone, it is my burden to bear, not theirs. If I accidentally trod my children’s toes, I apologize and assure them that I never meant to do it. The fact that it was an accident, that I never intended to step on their feet, does not relieve me of the responsibility for it. Likewise, if I have unwittingly offended someone, I bear the responsibility for that, regardless of my alleged righteousness or any sort of justification I have made for myself.

  3. Sarah says

    I don’t think you’re “wrong.” I actually agree with most everything you put in your article.

    My objection is that it seems one-sided. I believe, in positive discourse, intent and perception are equally important. Each party is responsible not only for what their intentions are and how they are perceived. It is my responsibility when I have offended someone to make sure that my intended meaning is actually what I’m expressing. Sometimes that means restating, changing my tone and body language, or a simple “I’m sorry. That is not how I meant it.” Of course, some people will be offended and I’m not proposing that we walk on eggshells to accommodate everyone. However, those times when I have felt judged, the people who were judging were rude, impolite and, quite often, mean. There is a way to present information in a way that is not judgmental; obviously, there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance involved when someone is presented with information that does not coincide with their worldview. That is not what immediately leaps to my mind when someone says “I feel judged,” because, like you, I bring my own experiences into the equation and the times that I have felt judged, it has been because someone attacked me or my children personally.

    I think there is also a difference of opinion concerning what is and isn’t rude. I have no problem with someone saying “Spanking works because of this and if you don’t do it then your child will be disrespectful.” I simply smile and say “That has not been my experience.” I do have a problem when someone maligns my children or accuses me of neglect because I don’t spank. At the same time, I find it abominably rude to suggest that the key to solving this problem is to ask leading questions in an attempt to get the offended to self-analyze. I assume that if people wish to be psychoanalyzed that they will take themselves to see a professional, of which I am not.

    I don’t have a problem with the idea that if we are more secure, we are less likely to be offended by opposing ideas. In fact, I believe it to be true. It is a great mantra for oneself and a great litmus test to see if I am being reactionary or if someone actually was rude to me. My fear, however, is that, especially in regards to something as deeply personal as parenting, that this idea of security in a belief system is a way to excuse snarkiness and general meanness. Indeed, I’ve seen people call parents who spank “child abusers” and parents who circumcise “pedophiles”, only to turn around and tell them that if they were more secure in their choices, they wouldn’t be offended. Of course, that’s me bringing my own experiences to the interpretation of your article.

    • says

      I want to focus on one thing: why do you find it abominable to ask someone a question to get at the root of their judgment? To ask, given your example, “Why do you feel so strongly that I don’t spank?” It’s not psychoanalysis, but rather addressing someone’s (rude) comment that stems from judgment. If they are comfortable sharing that judgment with you, what is abominable about asking the question back?

      • Sarah says

        I do not think it’s rude if they are comfortable with it. It is rude when someone is unwilling to address their own inner workings and it is pressed on them. I thought I had made that clear. I’m sorry that I did not.

        The caveat that the person who your urging to analyze their feelings about something is comfortable with that sort of conversation, I felt, was missing from your post. And, like a lot of things I see, often times people use things like “You know better, you do better,” or “If I’m confident in what I’m doing, I am not so easily offended,” as license and ammunition to be rude. I see this going the same way. I have had conversations with people and the natural rhythm of the conversation was to inquire about personal motivations, fears and feelings, only to have that conversation abruptly ended. Is it okay, then, to push those people or is it okay to allow your questions to stand in the hopes that they will think on them privately? Or is it better to apologize and assure them that you had no idea that they would find those questions rude? Those are questions that I don’t think you’ve considered. Your intent not to be rude does not mean that someone won’t perceive you as such.

        • says

          I think timing is everything. I do not believe we push people in the moment and absolutely one can apologize. But the point isn’t to push the person who feels judged here – the point is to have the person who feels judged (regardless of whether this is the right term) to press the individual making the statement of judgment why they feel the need to push or make whatever statement they did. SO I think we’re arguing very different things here. At no point did I say it was okay to be rude to anyone. But if someone is rude to you, you should be able to ask why they feel so strongly to share their view in such an extreme manner.

  4. Helen Rubin says

    “(interestingly I remember reading about an unbelievably successful company in terms of worker morale which did this; as soon as the company got too big, it was split into two locations so that everyone always knew the people they worked with in order to promote greater relations – I just can’t remember the name now). ”

    Tracy, I think the company you are thinking of is SAS in North Carolina – they came to mind as soon as I read this.

    Aren’t we actually ‘judgemental’ every day? It’s what often keeps us safe from harm – or is that considered ‘good judgement?

    Many of us are living more isolated lives in so many ways – sadly our true human contact is minimal at best, often precluding ongoing opportunities for learning when, and when not, to voice our opinion of ‘good judgement’.

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