My son’s nanny had been with us about a year when we sat down for her performance review. Betty was smart, dedicated, and had great judgment. Great judgment both in terms of her ability to make good decisions and in terms of her propensity to cast an opinion based upon her beliefs. The former type of judgment was a strength. The latter, not so much.
After providing Betty with a glowing evaluation, I told her that just one thing was still niggling at me. I wasn’t sure how to approach it, or even whether saying it would be fruitful. But I forged on, “I feel judged by you.”
Betty was taken aback, clearly unprepared for my comment. “What have I done to make you feel that way?” “It’s not anything you’ve done or even said” I replied, “It’s just what I feel”. She was slow to respond. Finally, weighing her words carefully, she said, “I believe that children should be cared for by their parents”. Essentially, Betty was saying, “Good parents don’t hire nannies.”
(Photo found at www.refractionsandreflections.com)
What is judgment?
Judgment, in this context, happens when we form an opinion of someone or some action based upon our own past experiences and/or beliefs. While we take in some information from the present, we tend to focus on the information that supports our bias. (BTW, Betty’s mom died when she was a toddler and she was cared for largely by her not-much-older siblings.)
Why do we judge?
We judge for many reasons, but mainly, it’s in our nature. From the beginning of time, to survive we have had to assess quickly the present situation based upon our past experiences. (e.g. The last time I felt the ground shake like this, it was a ginormous carnivore. Run!) We judge others with the same speed.
We judge because it’s easy and energy-efficient. Judgment is black/white , right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, innocent/guilty. Seeing and attempting to understand the grayness of life, in which virtually everything falls, is time and energy consuming.
We judge because it’s satisfying. It gives us what we want, each according to our own personalities. (Our judgments are always about us.) Depending upon how we are wired, judgment can make us right, or better than or separate from others or all three. And that is comforting to our small selves.
What’s the harm?
Judgment is costly, to both judger and judged. When the judger judges, he has essentially decided what he thinks, feels, and believes. Period. Done. The cost then, to the judger, is that he misses the opportunity to learn from and be challenged by the judged. And in doing so, misses the value that is or could be created by them.
The cost to the judged is more pernicious. The judged feels persecuted for an unknown crime. And, consciously or more often unconsciously, feels boxed in by the judgment placed upon them, held within the invisible walls of limitation set by the judger. The judged begin to doubt their ability to expand beyond the confining and unyielding judgment of the judger. In this way, judgment can become self-fulfilling, which can be experienced by the judged as self-constraining, and by the judger as making him right.
We all judge all the time. It’s part of the human experience. The key is being conscious of our judgments so that we can be free of them. And in being free from them, be in relationship with each other. Because if judgment is black, then acceptance is white. And acceptance is what provides the possibility of a present, transformative experience with others.
Identify your most troubled, important relationship and consider: how are you judging them? How do your judgments keep you right, better than, separate? How might your relationship improve if you did nothing more than drop the judgments, give up the need or hope that they’ll be different and accept them for who and what they are? Give it a try!
I don’t remember now if I continued to feel judged by Betty after our conversation and it didn’t matter. She was invaluable to my son and our life. And I suspect that naming the elephant in the room was enough to dissipate the wall of judgment between us. Interesting twist, three years after that initial review, Betty corralled me one afternoon to tell me she was pregnant. She was expecting the unexpected. Long story short, Betty had her baby and after a paid maternity leave, brought her along, caring for both her child and mine in our home. Good thing for both of us that I’m a bad parent. J