Judge me. No really, seriously, judge away. And don’t keep those thoughts to yourself, please share what it is about me that bothers you in some way. These phrases may sound like snarky text messages from your 13-year-old sister, but I actually expect them to be read as literally as possible. I am almost 100% in favor of judging.
Of course, to explain an opinion like this I need to do a bit of refining of terms and meanings. To me, being judgmental and being an ass hole are not the same. However, passing judgment where it is neither constructive nor warranted can turn you into an ass hole quite speedily. Furthermore, using judgment as a pretext for malice will seal the deal. I’d like to pull a quote from a book I just started reading, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. This is my first foray into the ideas of Stoicism, a philosophy developed in Ancient Greece and popular in Rome that bears some similarity to Buddhism. Although I’ve only read a few pages, and thus have gained only minimal insight into the inner workings of the late Roman Emperor’s mind, I am already stumbling upon useful ideas:
“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it is in the same intelligence and the same potion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are all made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.”
Taking a second to ascertain the meaning behind ancient Rome’s longest run-on sentence, I sensed within it the same opinion I’ve harbored for years: It is not inherently wrong to judge someone. This is a rather unpopular stance in modern culture, where the phrase “don’t judge me” is a favorite mantra among the overly defensive, the ill advised, and guests of Maury. Yet as Aurelius hints at the beginning of this “meditation”, we all go through life each day encountering people whose beliefs and actions do not align with our personal code of conduct. We judge them against this code. To call for a society in which no individual passes judgment on another is not only impossible, it’s actually just a terrible idea. The goal is not to abstain from judgement, but to abstain from irritation, anger, and cruelty. Having said that, are there still millions of petty circumstances in which a person has no business sharing their opinion of another’s choices? Certainly. But are there also circumstances in which a healthy dose of judgment is not only warranted, but desperately needed? I say hell yes.
I judge the person who refuses to acknowledge their privilege, the person who thinks animals are ours to torment, or the person who lives upon the planet with no regard for the greater Earthly community just as Aurelius judges the ungrateful, the arrogant, and the deceitful. Simultaneously I judge myself for being “unsocial”, for being quick to anger, and for being overly concerned with self image. Without judgment there is no reflection; without reflection there is no progress. Do those who announce that no one has the right to judge another still reserve the right for a person to judge his or herself? If so, why is your own person so vile that you would do unto yourself what you should never, ever do to another? And if not, then how do they expect individuals to grow and mature? Loving yourself really does lead to loving others, but loving yourself so much that you never question your own beliefs is a recipe for disaster.
The problem is not judgment, but dickishness. The personal codes of ethics that exist (hopefully) within each of the 7.something billion human beings on this planet will never “synch up”. There will not come a day when we all collectively wake up and realize hitting your kids is wrong or that mayonnaise is just gross. Barring some terrifying, Brave New World-esque overall in which humans become standardized from birth, difference in developmental pressures, culture, and perception will always produce individuals with different neural maps, thus opinions. To decide someone is less deserving of your kindness based on your judgment of his or her behavior is the folly. Ideally, I should judge people in much the same way I judge myself. I should see the ways in which a man’s actions negatively affect himself, those around him, or the planet and think to myself that he is wrong for those things. Yet just as I do not berate myself, I should not go over and push the man in dirt.
Although I see the righteousness of Aurelius’ Philosophy, I still struggle to live true to it. A couple weeks ago I beckoned to any of my Facebook friends who supported Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration” act to promptly lose my number. “Anyone who believes it is ok to treat a fellow human being this way has absolutely no place in my life!” I internet-screamed to the masses. I felt it was necessary to both judge and act against those who had acted against others in such a grotesque way. Simplified: I was being a dick to the dicks. This is the kind of behavior I have trouble avoiding. The better approach is obviously to judge silently, forgive ignorance, and should the issue ever come up in a civil environment, do my best to explain why their behavior is unacceptable to me. However, I am just not a big enough person yet. I feel compelled to be a dick to dicks. In this case, fundamentalists hating on gays irritates me in and of itself, but I am able to stay respectful and silent until something they do actually affects people.
I recognize that in order for us humans to have the type of beautiful world we’d like, we must learn to love and accept each other unconditionally. However this is the definition of “easier said than done”. Just how do you love the racist, the homophobic, the animal abuser, or the misogynist? I haven’t figured it out yet and am open to suggestions. Perhaps getting through the rest of Meditations will give me the tools I need to bridge the gap…but it’s an awfully short book.