I’m sure you’ve heard someone say “you shouldn’t judge people” or “don’t be so judgmental.” So you shut down rational thought and feel a little bad, mainly because you don’t want someone judging you. I hear this said often, but like so many sayings or ideas, it has wandered from its original meaning. There’s been times when I offer a description and get accused of passing judgement, but actually the accuser passed judgement on my description.
The original idea of ‘not judging’ people (in my life at least) came from Christian catechism. I learned that condemning someone to hell for their sins is in God’s hands. A Christian is supposed to treat all people with respect no matter what their past sins might be. Getting into the kingdom of heaven is like getting through the eye of a needle and all that.
The same idea can be found in many ideologies, and truth be told it can be a good idea to shut down rational thought, forego making assumptions based on first appearances, and stop holding prejudices against people. But at some point, especially for writers, our minds invariably end up defining someone, characterizing them, describing them…and that isn’t necessarily passing judgement, so there’s no need to suppress those thoughts.
So often, I hear people who act badly towards others say not to judge, but truth be told they are the ones judging; they are the bigot, and they want all other judgement shut down because it allows them to rule the roost. There’s this whole trap to calling someone out on bigotry—you get accused of projecting, of judging—ultimately the label ‘hater’ gets attached to you.
If someone acts like an bigot, calling that out or describing it isn’t necessarily passing judgement. Passing judgement would be saying that this person is a bigot and therefore they should be ostracized and ‘disliked’ or ‘unfriended’ or perhaps even killed. Likewise, calling a man or woman a “slut” or a “skank”—while it sounds judgmental—might only be offered as a description. Can it be backed up factually? It’s possible to describe someone or their behavior using less than flattering words (fat, biotch, bastid, nerd, idiot, doofus, orange) without passing a judgement that seeks to ostracize them from a community or to otherwise cause them harm.
Perhaps this is too nuanced, especially for Americans these days. It’s like we’re trapped under this big trump card, scared to call each other out on our less-than-stellar relating. So people get away with so much bigotry—and the person who tries to call it out ends up ostracized from the group because that seems easier. Writers describing things, even if accurate, are to blame for the state of the world. Kill the messenger.
And the hatred seems double for writers who show certain things in fiction. It’s like some people can’t understand that writers create fictional interactions that mirror reals ones in hopes that we might wake people up to negative patterns minus the direct calling out or confrontation.
We are all working on it…or are we? We break off into factions; we all end up projectionists, seeing our worst selves in someone else. Truth is that the idea of not judging, like so many things, has morphed into something that isn’t serving us. Bigots are running amok, and maybe if we just talked a little more, described what we see, we could get to a better place together.
Then again, it’s good when a mean person or bigot steps out of your life…unfortunately the lies they tell often poison others against you. So we all end up alone, trapped, passing judgement on our worst selves—our only escape from self-criticism is to pass judgement on others. Every person is an island unto their self because, for now at least, it’s easier than building community.