A Philosophical Discussion on Judgement

A random phone call over the holiday weekend led to a great discussion about judgement that I wanted to share. The convo started when my friend noted that he knows a couple young ladies who are "dating" men who keep money in their pockets; but they wouldn't be "dating" (and putting out) if these men weren't paying for the privilege. His word choices indicated that he felt what they were doing was wrong, but he was quick to tack on "oh but I don't judge them" at the end. I'm never one to avoid falling down the rabbit hole, so away we went with the questions, which turned into a lively discussion.

We're all human, and humans like to compartmentalize. We also each have our own value systems which we use to discern which behaviors/thoughts we will & will not participate in. Most of us get this value system from our parents, our religious/spiritual beliefs, our friends/peer group, etc. But our value systems don't just stop when it comes to evaluating our own behavior - we then use it to analyze the behavior of others. That leads us to categorize behaviors as "right" or "wrong", which then leads to us labeling other people as "good" or "bad". And that, dear readers, is judgement.

Continuing in the conversation, my friend acknowledged my point, but countered that because his behavior towards these young women hasn't changed, he hasn't acted on the judgement and thus really hasn't judged them at all. He's still friends with them, hasn't shunned them, doesn't talk bad about them, etc. Fair enough. But is behavior the sole indicator of whether or not a judgement has taken place? The thought is still there, correct? I noted two examples - racism & homosexuality. A racist can think that his race is superior to all others, think others are beneath him, etc - does that mean he's not a racist unless he acts on it? Same for homosexuality - a person can be attracted to others of the same-sex, have fantasies about same-sex people - but he's not a homosexual unless he acts on it? In both examples, most people would answer "no, it's the thoughts in the mind that dictate the label, whether they act on it or not". So then if thats' true, that would mean that whether or not you act on the judgement is irrelevant, what matters is that you judged someone in your mind at all, correct?

I said it before, but I'll say it again: its natural for humans to judge ourselves & each other. This is never going to end. But we must also recognize that everyone else does not subscribe to our value systems. What we deem to be acceptable or not acceptable for ourselves, has no bearing on what others choose to do with their lives. Now granted, there are some behaviors that overall society has deemed wrong, such as murder or theft.  But that leaves an infinite number of behaviors that everyone has a different viewpoint on, so one cannot assume that everyone shares their viewpoint & same view on what is right vs. wrong, good vs. bad.

With everyone living by their own value systems, of course people are going to exhibit behaviors that you've deemed unacceptable for yourself. But is it your place to evaluate their behavior based on your standard? That's the crux of the judgement debate. People who say they hate judgement/being judged are really saying that they hate the practice of being deemed unacceptable according to another person's value system. I think that's more than fair - who wants to be bound by rules that you don't believe in or live by? I know I don't.

The final point that was made by my friend was that a certain level of judgement needs to be done when you deal with other people. He gave the example of dealing with someone who has a history of theft - shouldn't you judge that person to be a thief & thus not leave them alone in your house? Good point. But what about a person who stole once 10 years ago - should they still be given the same side eye as a person who is a kleptomaniac & steals frequently? The other problem with judgement is that is doesn't allow for a person to change & learn from their mistakes. Granted, some people never learn & continue to make the same mistakes over & over. Other people make a bad decision, learn from it and never repeat it again. Should those two people be judged in the same way?

I ended this conversation with more questions than I had answers. Judgement is a human trait; it will never end. It can be both helpful and hurtful, depending on the situation & how its applied. How does one balance the human impulse to categorize based on their own value system, with the desire to not be deemed "bad" by others? Is it possible to for a person to not judge others? Is it possible for a person to truly not care what others think of them?