Are you Discerning or Judgemental?


This article is based on a book written by Rohail Aslam ‘Am I judgmental If I say you’re judgmental?’ I strongly recommend that you read it when it comes out.

Last week I attended the Nottingham Crown Court as a witness. At the end of the hearing, our barrister announced that the judgement will be completed in a few weeks. The judge is the officer appointed to hear and try civil and criminal cases in a court of justice. But I am a judge as well all the time, making judgements about people, places and procedures. My decisions are instant, my judgements are final and binding! In most cases, they are damning of others. If anyone dares oppose them, they’re struck from my good books forever. That’s judgementalism! Why do we judge others so negatively? The pandemic has given me ample time to reflect on this wretched state. I think there are several reasons why we judge others so severely, they include:

  1. Anger and pride: ‘Fight or flight’ knee-jerk response takes over when we feel threatened or dislike something. We stop thinking and reasoning and start banging the table, shouting and screaming. It reflects habitual hunger to be the one ‘in the right’; to prove the other wrong! We want to trip them up and show that they’re incompetent. Unfortunately, some of us get a kick out of putting others down. Since we like to look better than others.
  2. Hastiness: It’s far too easy to blurt out the answer instead of supporting the other to solve the problem with kindness.
  3. The overwhelming cause is our resident judge sitting in our head-heart, full of a lifetime’s prejudices, traumas and vulnerabilities.

How do I know if I’m being judgmental? Well, if you look down on others, you make a moral evaluation of them that they aren’t honest, nor kind, nor bothered, you put yourself on the pedestal and feel good then you probably are being judgemental.

Let’s be Discerning

When you’re judged like that you feel miserable, belittled and it’s painful. No one should have to go through it. So, what can I do? The answer is to become discerning. Discernment is the awareness and understanding in a calm and composed state without strong emotions. Now you are thinking so you find out about the poor person’s situation and circumstances. But it requires a kind and generous soul. Do you have it?

Dr John Gottman is an American clinician who has done extensive work on relationships. In his book ‘Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child’, he explains the findings on observing how families engage with each other at times of high stress. He proves that children raised in families with non-judgmental care and patience will grow up successfully, they’re happier, they stay in long-term friendships, they’re less angry, healthier since they are in control of their emotions and their attainment levels in education are much higher.

I’m still waiting for the judge to send his judgement about the member of my congregation. I wonder if I can slow down with my judgements in the meantime, which can wreak havoc in other’s lives.  My holy scripture The Majestic Quran repeatedly recommends, “Believers, get strength from patience and prayer, for God is with the patient” (Baqarah: 153).

Dr Gottman recommends five steps of Emotion Coaching, these guide you to speak with your child that will develop trust, friendship and bond. The six steps are:

  1. To become aware of the other persons’ emotions. So, you notice the other person who is in need of your support.
  2. To see their state as an opportunity for connecting to them and teaching.
  3. To ask them what is bothering them and offering to listen.
  4. To help them find words to label their feelings.
  5. To listen kindly and confirm their feelings. This shows them that you know how they are feeling and that you accept their feelings.
  6. To set limits on their behaviour whilst at the same time helping them to solve the problem. Have a conversation in which they admit their shortcoming/fault and agree to solve the problem mutually.

Research on the adverse effects of judgmental behaviour

Here is some research presented by Rohail Aslam (QTLS, BA Hons). To judge is a practice that comes as naturally to us all as taking a breath. It is one of our default mechanisms; instant response to anything we sense, anything that others say or do. We shape an impression and then simply respond.

However, I’d first like to define the cataclysmic difference between making a judgment and being judgmental because a truly alarming number of people get quite confused with this. Let’s take a regular day in any of our lives. A day that invariably consists of numerous judgments we need to make in order to function from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we drift off to sleep, like what we’re going to eat, how much we’re going to eat, what we’re going to wear, how fast we’re going to drive and so on. These are all based on tiny little risk assessments we have to make about what’s good for us or not good for us. This is also described as ‘healthy judgmental behaviour,’ where we point out actions or words that could be proven to be harmful to others.

However, to be judgmental, as the dictionary states, is to ‘have or display an overly critical point of view.’ Being judgmental is when we’re telling someone that they’re stupid when we open our mouths or raise our fists to ruin someone else’s day in order to make ourselves feel momentarily better.

This reality, an undeniable truth that all of human conflict was and indeed is triggered by judgmental expressions was enough to set me on my path towards creating the sea change humanity so desperately needs. Furthermore, my conviction to spread this wisdom is made stronger when I reflect on how simply we can re-train ourselves to give more non-judgmental responses.

The intervention needs to begin everywhere in our communities and more critically, in early years education settings. This strategy will ensure that non-judgmental behaviour will remain sustained in the future. When our children grow up to be non-judgmental, so will their children and therein will lie the sea change we’re looking for.