(Excerpted from Getting Real: the Road to Personal Remption by Dick Todd & Kevin Robinson)
There is a political correctness mantra going around today that, in myriad terminologies, suggests that it is bad to be judgmental. There are many truths involved at the core of this issue. “Judge not that ye be not judged” and “until you’ve walked in another man’s shoes” are but two sound pieces of historic admonition on the subject. And, for the most part, I am in hearty agreement with most societal warnings about being quick to “judge” the actions or character of another human being. But.
There is an important baby that often gets thrown out when that particular bath water is tossed. It’s the whole concept of personal discernment. Passing judgment and exercising discernment are, to my mind at least, two separate ideas. The first is often harmful to everyone involved, and the latter is an essential element of growing as an individual, a couple, a business, or a society. Judgment has the implicit weight of sentencing, punishment, and/or recrimination to it. There is the element of “now you’re going to get it” just under the surface. And, of course, in the world of law, when it comes to crimes against individuals and/or “society,” then there is a very appropriate place for judgment.
But in this book, Dick and I are trying to stay focused on how we, as individuals, can get real. And, in my opinion, it is impossible to get real without exercising personal discernment. We will never have perfect discernment, we will make mistakes which we must be prepared to acknowledge and make right, but we must find a way to consistently try to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, and fact from fiction. If we fail, the idea of getting real is moot. As we’ve discussed in the previous chapters, some people are our friends, but most are not. A few people might actually love us, but most never will. Millions of people experience a wedding without ever creating a marriage. It takes clear discernment to recognize the differences between what is real and what is not, in these areas, and in virtually every other area of our lives. And, sadly, it is often much easier to examine the lives of others than it is to be discerning about our own lives and or own truth.
I think it’s fair to say that judging others often has to do with a desire to condemn, and can be a means of venting anger or hostility of some sort. It can also be about trying to justify our feelings and/or actions in the eyes of others. Hence, this business of judgment can do far more harm than good on a personal and a corporate level. In my own life, I’ve observed a very disturbing pattern. First, my experience with a particular individual, or even just some gut-level “instinct,” tells me that I don’t want to proceed any farther with the relationship. Then, at some point, a third party or parties innocently invites me to participate in some activity with the individual who set off my internal warning buzzers. I have basically two choices at that point: (1) ignore my strange warning signals and go along, or (2) just say “No Thanks.”
Whether my reluctance is based on an actual negative encounter, or is based solely on “bad vibes,” going along is, in my experience, almost always a mistake. As far as “vibes” go, I have slowly learned to trust these feelings of ill ease that I get sometimes. I have no explanation for how or why I get them, but they are (whether I like it or not) part of my truth. So, for the sake of this example anyway, let’s jump to my second choice. And here’s where I get in trouble far more often than I like to admit. In most cases of this nature, a simple “no thanks” is usually followed directly by the question: “Why?” And that’s where I usually screw up. Some subconscious insecurity makes me feel like I have to justify my decision in the eyes of the questioner, so I shift automatically into “lawyer mode” and start laying out my case. In other words, I start passing judgment. Even if my reasons and my instincts are 100% correct (Not likely under the best of circumstances!), this course of action never produces a positive outcome. In the first place, whether I intend it to be or not, it’s an attack. In the second place, it’s a cowardly attack because I’m doing it behind the person’s back. In the third place, even if everything I say is true as it relates to my experience, it makes me look like the bad guy, a judgmental S.O.B. with a real bad attitude. . .especially if the person I’m talking to never experienced any of the stuff that set off my bells and whistles. (And if s/he has just invited me to pal around with the person I’m putting down, how likely is it that anyway?)
But let me suggest again that discernment, on the other hand, is very different. Discernment is about the lines we draw in the sand for ourselves. And I believe that it is a very healthy (even essential) exercise in creating appropriate boundaries around our own lives. Had I chosen discernment in the example above, I could have offered a polite refusal and left it at that. Part of being real, part of standing in one’s own truth, is growing out of the need to justify our every decision in the eyes of others. Why didn’t I go along? If I’m being judgmental, the answer has to do with a list of negative evaluations aimed and launched at someone else. And these words are usually accompanied by facial expressions and body language that automatically causes other people to recoil emotionally. . . if not physically. If I’m exercising discernment, however, it’s just because “I didn’t feel like it.” That’s it. Period. No attacks. No negative words. No unflattering images of me or of others left in the mind of the innocent third party. I am, after all, allowed to feel anything I, well, feel. That’s what feelings are all about. But nothing says I have to explain or justify my feelings to anyone.
I wrote the following poem for a young nurse who once took wonderful care of me. She is my daughter’s age and has my daughter’s emotional temperament. Her heart’s desire was to be seen as a “nice” person, and she was forever letting insensitive and unenlightened young men walk all over her feelings. She ignored every inner misgiving because she believed, on some warped level, that a “nice” person gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, looks the other way, if you will. And while she would fight like a protective mother to protect her friends, she deliberately chose not to exercise discernment about those individuals in a position to hurt her. She got hurt a lot. Emotionally and physically.
You can spend all your time riding fences
You can survey the borders all day
You can understand all of the boundaries
But that won’t keep intruders away
You can wish that the world would respect you
You can even behave as you should
You can honor the boundaries of others
But all that will do you no good
You can try to pretend that it’s okay
You can put your own needs on the shelf
You can wish there were troops on your borders
But you still have to guard them yourself
You’ve been trampled by folks who don’t like you
You’ve watched others who swear that they do
You’ve felt every backstabbing knife thrust
But you still can’t decide what to do
You want to be known as a nice guy
You don’t want to be seen as a rat
You just lie there in front of your doorway
But don’t know why they treat you like that
You ask me why I’m acting different
You see a new look on my face
You act like I’m one of the bad guys
But I’m only protecting my space
You know we’ve both let people hurt us
Your heart knows they hadn’t the right
You know that we should have just stopped them
But we just never had that much fight
You can go on taking punches
You’ll get used to abuse and neglect
You don’t have to stand up and oppose them
But I’m going to earn some respect
Earning respect requires discernment, as does every other aspect of personal growth. A desire to look, and a desire to see. Even if the stuff in the mirror, and the stuff all around us, isn’t very pleasant to look at. If you do not respect yourself enough to set up personal boundaries, and if you can’t make decisions based on how you really feel, you will live your life with a target on your back. For everybody’s sake, avoid being judgmental. But for your sake, and for the sake of everyone you love, learn to exercise discernment.