Judgements tend to be associated with something negative in common speech today. “You are so judgemental”. “Are you judging me?”. “I feel judged”. What we have to be careful about though, is conflating hurtful and opinionated assertions (judging?) with what we might call discernment.

Discernment

Discernment is about making clear and informed distinctions between things; whether people, behaviour, objects or ideas. It is about seeing features and categories. About sorting and sifting. Framing and filtering. About separating signal from noise.

Discernment is then fundamentally about seeking insight and understanding. It is not about criticising, accusing or dogmatically insisting. And, what really matters here is your inner state — how you feel. It is your inner state that people typically pick-up on when they feel judged. The actual words you say tend to matter much less.

Do your words come from a place of peace and compassion and from a genuine attempt to understand? Or, do they come from anger, insecurity or stubbornness?

When we judge

It is often the behaviour of others that makes us “judge”. For example, assume a parked car suddenly started rolling down a hill towards you, or that a deadly snake was after you. Would you “judge” the car or snake for what happened? Not very likely. You would see it for what it is and take action. You would probably feel very differently if someone shouted abuse at you, however.

But, perhaps our reactions in difficult human situations need not be much different to the car and the snake. Perhaps, we could still recognise behaviour for what it is and take action, but without being consumed by anger or hate? Perhaps, we can be more discerning rather than judging.

Closely related

The original meanings of the words “judgement” and “discernment” are quite close. Judgement, however, implies something more definitive in the way it tends to be used. A sort of, “this is the final answer”, feeling. And, that can be dangerous.

Because, whatever answer we may have reached, we can never completely know or claim that it is the only truth. And, this is a subtle, but important point. A point whose appreciation might change how you relate to a situation. For example, by making you more open to different possibilities, or the fact that circumstances often make people behave in strange and unexpected ways. 

Misunderstood

Of course, not everyone will understand you even if you really do come from a place of discernment. Ironically, you may be judged, for judging, when you were only being discerning. And, that’s okay. All you can do is be aware of your inner state and be sensitive to how your words might be received. And, if you truly come from a place of discernment, chances are that you are much less likely to make someone feel judged.

So, ask yourself: How mindful are you of your own behaviour? How often do you use judgement vs discernment?

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