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My son’s nanny had been with us about a year when we sat down for her performance review. Betty was smart, dedicated, and had great judgment. Great judgment both in terms of her ability to make good decisions and in terms of her propensity to cast an opinion based upon her beliefs. The former type of judgment was a strength. The latter, not so much.
After providing Betty with a glowing evaluation, I told her that just one thing was still niggling at me. I wasn’t sure how to approach it, or even whether saying it would be fruitful. But I forged on, “I feel judged by you.”
Betty was taken aback, clearly unprepared for my comment. “What have I done to make you feel that way?” she asked. “It’s not anything you’ve done or even said,” I replied, “It’s just what I feel.” She was slow to respond. Finally, weighing her words carefully, she said, “I believe that children should be cared for by their parents.” Essentially, Betty was saying, “Good parents don’t hire nannies.” Huh.
What a paradox?!
Judgment, in this context, happens when we form an opinion of someone or some action based upon our own past experiences and/or beliefs. While we take in some information from the present, we tend to focus on the information that supports our bias based in the past.
Judgment can be based upon our past experience with that person. However, judgment is more typically the result of early childhood relationships and experiences, developed as a kind of emotional and/or physical survival strategy. Our judgment applies those past survival strategies to the present, whether or not they apply or are even beneficial to us.
BTW, Betty’s mom died when she was a toddler and she was cared for largely by her not-much-older siblings.
We judge for many reasons, but mainly, it’s in our nature. From the beginning of time, to survive we have had to assess quickly the present situation based upon our past experiences. (e.g. We hear someone’s stomach growl and think it’s a tiger. Run!) We judge others with the same speed (and degree of accuracy).
We judge because it’s easy and energy-efficient. Judgment is black/white, right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, innocent/guilty. Seeing and attempting to understand people as shades of gray or bundles of both good and bad (as are we all) is time and energy consuming. (And it’s in seeking the gray, accepting the bad with the good, that Emotional Intelligence lives.)
We judge because it’s satisfying. It gives us what we want, each according to our own personalities. (Our judgments are always about us.) Our judgments make us right, better, justified. And that is comforting to our small self. However, it also keeps us locked in separateness from those we judge.
Judgment is costly, to both judger and judged. When the judger judges, she has essentially decided what she thinks, feels, and believes. Period. Done. End of conversation. Judgment traps both the judger and the judged.
The attitudes and the behaviors of the judger (created by the stories that the judger makes up about the judged) limit what she can see to what conforms to her judgment. The cost then, to the judger, is that she misses the opportunity to learn from and be challenged by the judged. Losing the chance to find a place of growth and opportunity for herself. Missing the value that is or could be created by the judged.
The cost to the judged is more pernicious. The judged feels persecuted for an unknown crime. And, consciously or more often unconsciously, feels boxed in by the judgment placed upon them, held within the invisible walls of limitation set by the judger. The judged begin to doubt their ability to expand beyond the confining and unyielding judgment of the judger. In this way, judgment can become self-fulfilling, which can be experienced by the judged as self-defeating, and by the judger as making her right.
We all judge all the time. It’s part of the human experience. The key is being conscious of our judgments so that we can be free of them. And in being free from them, be in relationship with each other and in connection with ourself and the present moment.
Because if judgment is black, then acceptance is white. And acceptance is what provides the possibility of a present, transformative experience with others.
The challenge for the judger (which is all of us, BTW) is to accept the possibility that their judgment might be just that, a judgement, projected from themselves and not a fact about the other. The work for the judger is, as Susan Scott would say, “to interrogate reality.” To check out their assumptions, to be curious and open.
Identify your most troubled, important relationship and consider: how are you judging them? How do your judgments keep you right, better than, separate from? How might your relationship improve if you did nothing more than drop your judgments, give up the need to be right, and become accepting of, and curious about, who they are? Give it a try!
I don’t remember now if I continued to feel judged by Betty after our conversation, and it didn’t matter. She was invaluable to my son and our life.And I suspect that naming the elephant in the room was enough to dissipate the wall of judgment between us. She ended up working for our family for eight years until we moved out of town.
Interesting twist, three years after that initial review, Betty corralled me one afternoon to tell me she was pregnant. She was expecting the unexpected. Long story short, a few months later, Betty gave birth to her daughter. After her paid maternity leave, Betty came back to care for my son in our home, bringing along her own daughter. It was a win, win; a relationship of true interdependence.
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Posted in: Emotional Intelligence
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