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What’s Wrong with Being Judgmental?

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I’ve been chided in the past – by friends, acquaintances, and people who don’t necessarily fit into either category – for what has been described as my sometimes judgmental personality. I’m sure you too have on occasion been instructed snappily, “Don’t judge,” immediately after being made privy to some bit of personal news or information that – let’s face it – calls for just that.

So what are people so afraid of when they say this? And if other people’s judgment is enough of a pressing concern for these people that they feel the need to make a disclaimer before revealing what is presumably confidential information, why do they even bother sharing what they have already logically predetermined to be judgment-worthy information in the first place? I’m getting a headache.

The thing is: I don’t necessarily see the problem with judgment. If we assume said friend/acquaintance/other is sharing this information with you to glean some sort of objective third party perspective, doesn’t that inability to see one’s own dilemma objectively inherently indicate that something is probably off-kilter? And doesn’t the objective advice this person is requesting naturally imply a belief by this person that you possess a sort of better judgment than that which led him/her to his/her predicament to begin with? As I always say to anyone within earshot: the only people who worry about being judged are the people who have already realized they’re about to do, or have already done, something stupid.

I’m sure it’s never pleasant to hear “Wow, you’re a slut!” after divulging details of your one-night stand with the overly-tattooed 22-year old barista you met playing darts at the bar last Tuesday night. Nor do I think it’s easy to stand there under the condemnatory gaze of your gainfully-employed friends after telling them you’ve quit your well-paying job to create abstract collages from public restroom accessories. But the fact remains that, consciously or not, you are sharing this information with these people for a reason. You WANT their judgment. You may, in fact, NEED it.

Assuming the person with whom you’re sharing this nasty bit of business isn’t some stranger off the street, chances are you think this person can offer value to your thought or decision-making process. So don’t get all bent out of shape if the bit of good advice you seek comes with a small price tag (namely: a momentary assault on your dignity). Own your decisions. And certainly don’t be apologetic for them. Unless, of course, you’re thinking of sleeping with that overly-tattooed, 22-year old barista playing darts at the corner of the bar on a Tuesday night. Dangit, there I go again being all judgmental.

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About KenCheng21

  • I assume from the title of the article and the sharing of the article itself that you are prepared for comment.

    “Wow, you’re a slut” is not a judgment; it is an insult based on a judgment.

    It’s been my experience that negative people judge, the insecure insult, narcissists give unsolicited advice, the optimistic assess, the charitable listen, and the altruist gives feedback.

    A hallmark of maturity is the ability to accept responsibility for what one says rather than blaming the other person for having shared – the old “You asked for it” defense, if you will. Abandoning all decorum may be our right, but many who do so are left.

  • Dear Altruist – thanks for the feedback! I can tell from your even and non-accusatory tone that you took the article for what it is; a (hopefully) humorous attempt to play devil’s advocate.

    I completely agree that constructive criticism or feedback is the ultimate form of support. Additionally I agree that unsolicited advice is a nuisance on par with hearing your next door neighbors having aggressively wall-banging sex.

    That said: I don’t think pointing out the obvious to a person who probably already knows what they’re sharing may be ridiculous (hence the “Don’t judge!” disclaimer) is necessarily blaming or invocatory of the ‘you asked for it’ defense. I think a good friend calls a spade a spade.

    In any case Diana Hartman, I appreciate the time and thought to comment.

    PS. Nice wordplay on the right/left comment!

  • malbec

    You are hilarious 🙂 Great article.

  • malbec

    I had a recent conversation with a friend about being judgmental..and I don’t think it’s all that bad. I think that we don’t do it enough…especially with close friends. I think a lot of us are afraid to offend our friends by offering our opinions when in fact…I think that being a good friend requires one to be a little judgmental.

  • Mu

    Judging is failing to understand the true meaning of situations, and considering events under one light only.
    It is a lack of wisdom, but it is also very human because necessary to our society. (Sexual taboos are necessary to an orderly society).

    I like to consider myself more than a mere human being, whose way of thinking is dictacted by the society I evolve in.
    I find judging unecessary. And I do not open myself to those who might judge me.

    I had rather elevate myself to more important things. And enjoy my life as much as I can.

  • Being judgmental doesn’t do anything for the person being judged. It is a way for the person making the judgment to feel superior. Making oneself feel better at the expense of others is generally agreed upon by the vast majority of people to be a bad thing. It reflects poorly on the judge’s self-esteem and character.

    If you can’t see why being judgmental is bad though, then you probably have greater issues to work through than merely being a judgmental person as you lack self-awareness (of your own motivation in judging others) and empathy.

  • I don’t see that there is anything at all wrong with having an opinion about something.

    Saying someone is judgemental is more normally a snide way of objecting to the fact that someone has an opinion of you that you don’t like, so it has nothing at all to do the views of people like Shari.

  • We are rational, thinking beings, and part of that means making discriminating judgments of situations and people – if only to ourselves. Making our judgments known is another ball of wax. I tend to agree with #7 as to the connotation of the word “judgmental,” but Diana Hartman makes interesting distinctions. And the crux of the matter seems to be – what purpose does making our judgments/assessments known serve? The underlying intent may well be the key to assessing the meaning.

    Also, there’s another interesting thought which emerges in the course of these comments – the grounding of the modern term of “political correctness” in the good old notion of decorum and social etiquette, extrapolated to specifically apply to a political kind of environment and conversation. Something to think about.

  • Thanks for the comments, folks.

    Let me first say that I agree completely with Diana, Mu and Shari in their central premise that callously unreasonable and unsolicited judgment is irritating and only leads to debacles like California’s Prop. 8 and the likes of Kris Allen winning American Idol.

    That said, I should emphasize again my original distinction between the kind of unprovoked judgment they note above and the very specific, micro-level judgment of which my column refers.

    Malbec, Christopher and Roger all bring up good points. I simply don’t see the point in merely telling a friend what he/she wants to hear in discussions in which you two share a fundamental disagreement. Why bother having the conversation in the first place? Going back to my (admittedly ridiculous) example, I am 100% okay calling my friend Susie a “dumb slut” if she tells me that she eschewed reviewing depositions for her big murder trial last night because she was feeling randy and decided instead to pick up the first guy she saw playing darts at her local bar. I would be 100% okay saying this to her because I know that she knows that comment comes from a place of well-thought-out love. Of course, it would be completely different if I said this to the woman whose cell phone conversation I happened to be eavesdropping on while standing in line at the DMV.

    Either way, my original point remains: own your decisions. Stop prefacing your latest idiotic misadventures with “Don’t Judge!” and then get all indignant when your friend(s) inevitably do just that. Perhaps go with “Wanna hear something awesome?”

  • Good points, Ken. Much of the trouble with human discourse is that we tend to be enamored with the descriptive use/model of language as if there were no other, more important or just as frequent uses. A remark must have its point, it must be addressed to someone, there has got to be a reason for saying things. To evaluate our locutions apart from the context and our reasons for them, as though there were kind of absolute descriptions, more often than not misses the point and is the perennial source of trouble with human communications and understanding.

  • Ruvy


    Being judgmental has a whole series of connotations. One is rendering judgment upon a person who has told you a story about themselves, perhaps one too revelatory for your tastes. Another is insulting that person (to his face) based on the judgment you have made.

    But a third aspect of “being judgmental”, the one that occurred immediately to me when seeing the title of the article, was ignored – the act of judging a person to others without telling the person to his face.

    Any comments?

  • Roger – agree that judgments are not made in a vacuum, which is – more or less – my point in dismissing the generalization that judgment of others is always a bad thing. After all, our entire legal system is predicated on the notion that 12 people, when presented with facts from opposing sides, will make a sound and fair judgment. But then again, some smart aleck will just point out the O.J. jury and I’d have no rebuttal…

    Ruvy – I chalk up the third scenario you mention less to being judgmental and more to just being a dick. After all, that’s what you are if you are habitually expressing judgment of others behind their backs, don’t you think?

  • mrclouds

    ah lovely article Mr.Cheng

  • Kate

    Im extremely judgemental and proud of it! No one seems to address the value of judgement in reinforcing ones beliefs or opinions about what is right and wrong, safe or dangerous, appropiate or inappropiate. For example, as a parent, It is appropiate and resonable to make judgements about the parents/families you entrust your child to. Many parents that I know would not only allow but serve my underage teenager (18yo) alcohol without a second thought. I am very direct and honest about my “judgement” that not only is this illegal but bad parenting on their part.

  • john

    Everyone overlooking the obvious I see. It’s not that being judgemental is wrong or right. It’s that with being judgemental … u r now opening yourself to the same types of criticisms.
    The example about calling a person a slut is a valid one … and by saying that to someone you open yourself to criticisms by others who may choose to defend that person .. and attacks on your own life choices as well.
    Sure u may not be a slut like someone … but maybe your a fat battend

  • Elena

    Im proud I can do a good judgment about people because it helps me to built a relationship with them, or prevents me from unnecessary surprises. I can state my opinion and Im not afraid to do so when needed. Being judgmental is different….its pretty much judging the whole personality just by one characteristic. If you smoke, it doesnt mean you are a slut, if you are fat, it does mean you are lazy…sorry, but itsd true and some people dont like hearing it and can call you judgmental

  • april

    I am always accused of being judgemental- and I am. The thing is I am judging one particular couple in my social circle- but their behaviour includes leaving their children with strangers, smoking hash nightly, using harder illicit drugs, saying rude things, sitting on other husband’s laps, being belligerant, getting so drunk that a need to be carried home is created, etc. I do judge these things and never do them myself. That is not to say that I have never done anything that I’m embarassed of but there are values that I hold and actions that I believe are right or wrong. And I am more than happy to address my faults. (I hope!)

  • Robble

    What do you think of this conversation:

    friend 1: I made a new year’s resolution to not be so judgmental.

    friend 2: I don’t think you are so judgmental.

    friend 1: That’s because you’re more judgmental!

  • ellie

    I’m not so sure about not beingjudgemental – in fact I’m confused by people who judge you as ‘wrong’ for being judgemental – isn’t that a judgement in itself? The woman at the top of comments who listed a whole load of negative comments about people, e.g. only a narcissist gives unsolicited advice etc etc well hello, isn’t that being judgementle?? If we have no opinions based on judgements about what is right or wrong not only for ourselves but for society then all we are left with is a wishy washy moral relativism. Surely one can be ‘judgemental’ but be willing to listen to others views/ways of doing things and not condemning them if they differ but this doesn’t mean we can’t have a judgement on them.

  • Jay

    I agree that being judgemental is fine. Actually I want to say better than fine as in moral, virtuous, wise, and good.

    It is true that being judgemental opens one to being judged. That should not be a problem as long as you are judged as you judge others. That is to say rightly with compassion and caring.

    I do think it’s wrong to use judgement, insight, or understanding as simply a way to insult or harm others.

    As usual, anything good can be misused by someone of bad intent and made bad.

  • S.T.M

    I’m certain Ken Cheng’s long gone from here, but here’s my two bob’s worth:

    Being judgemental is part of the human condition. It’s impossible not be. However, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    As in: ignoring the things that have made you judge another, or accepting them and letting it go.

    Here’s a handy creed: don’t do/say something, just do/say nothing.

    Besides, I reckon being judgmental is perfectly well and good – provided it’s yourself you are judging.

    And if others are judging you, that’s their business, not yours. Not worth letting others live rent free in your own head for something they may – or may not – have thought about you.

    And being judgmental is a tad different to having or forming an opinion.

    More often than not, making judgements, especially about others, is based on fear of what’s not familiar, and will mostly impact on how you interact with or view that person and their opinions/way of life/ world view etc .

    Charity begins at home. Be kind to yourself by being honest with yourself, and let others do the same – or not, as the case may be.

  • Gentleness is strong

    If it is not helpful to be judgmental , if it is out of balance with the situation…..another way to consider giving perspective to someone is to be discerning…this has a very different meaning. It is usually perceived differently to the person you are speaking to. One thing to consider is the intent with which you say things. Are you really trying to help? One last point , being discerning is relative to specific circumstances , being judgmental requires broad statements that don’t take into consideration the specific situation . This causes the person with who you are speaking to to feel like you did not hear them or understand them.

  • Vivian Oberon
  • FRH

    I’m also considered to be judgmental and don’t have a lot of friends because of it. On the other hand my family and my two friends treasure my discernment and seek my opinion. The difference as I see it is in the receiver of the message. Can you take honesty? I’m incredibly fair, perceptive, optimistic, constructive, forgiving, encouraging, and loyal. But I’m honest. If the receiver of the message hears “you are [judgement]” instead of what I actually said, which is usually “as I see it, the lay of the land is such and thus [here is my judgement]” then this is no my problem. I seek from others and derive for myself the same honest feedback; I want it, need it, and I can take it.

    I can’t be in a relationship with someone who is too insecure to communicate honestly.

    There can be strengths and weaknesses, give and take, but I’m not going to carry someone who can’t cope psychologically with inequality, disagreement, and all the other uncomfortable realities of life. A friend of mine has to do their own work and bring something to the table, not just expect me to prop them up and never challenge them.

    I have a growing concern with the way people use discussions in social media like this one to shaming and press others to conform. Examples are below. They include

    -you don’t know enough to judge
    -you are just mean
    -you have a psychological problem that causes you to judge
    -you need to grow
    -you should limit your judging to your interior personal life
    -you wouldn’t be able to take your own medicine