from William Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence"

My former thoughts returned: the fear that kills;
And hope that is unwilling to be fed;
Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
And mighty Poets in their misery dead.
--Perplexed, and longing to be comforted,
My question eagerly did I renew,
"How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Effects of Judgment

Before I continue to discuss whom we should not (and all too often do) judge, it seems salutary to say a little something about judgment.  Perhaps an example from classical mythology would give us context to understand why judgment is, in general, a negative activity even when the judgment being made is a positive, affirmative judgment.

For a moment let us turn our eyes to that most famous of judgments--one that resulted in no end of calamity for two peoples--The Judgment of Paris.  We all know the story--in order to foment discord Eris, goddess of discord, threw a golden apple in amongst the gathering of the chief goddesses of Olympos.  They fought over it and it was determined that the prize should go to the one judged most beautiful.  It fell to Paris to make this judgment and the prize went to Aphrodite.  In return for his judgment, Aphrodite provided him with the wife of his dreams, who also happened to be the wife of another man.  And so the Trojan war is precipitated because of a judgment.

In so many ways, this wraps together the strands of what is wrong with judgment, even approbation, or a judgment to the good.  Judgment inextricably binds us to the one being judged. Jesus made it clear with a fundamental law of judgment--Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.(Matthew 7: 1-2).  The judgment we render on others will be rendered on us.

Now, this seems not to be too terrible a matter if the judgment we are giving is good; however, the act of judgment is, itself problematic, because it supposes some standing by which we have authority to make such a judgment.  The act of judgment in some way always assumes that the other is subject to judgment.  In a sense it objectifies a person. A person now has become the subject of a judgment.  In itself, this is an attitude that removes dignity.

Judgment inextricably binds the one judging and the one judged and binds them in a way that is always negative because the underlying assumption of judgment is this standing to judge.

But perhaps the strongest negative impact of judgment is that it robs us of joy.  Let's take a matter of much lesser importance--say the judgments that lead us to our taste in music.  By deciding that we do not care for something that is harmless in itself, we are depriving ourselves of an opportunity to enjoy some of life's good things.  Let's say I decide that country music is for the rubes and that one as sophisticated as myself can't have anything to do with it.  In so doing I bar myself from the pleasures of a Patsy Cline or a Hank Williams or a Willie Nelson.  When something that sounds vaguely country shows up on the radio i begin spinning the dial (or pressing buttons) to find something else.  I have excluded myself from something that could be a source of great joy.

Ultimately judgment reveals an enormous lack of humility.  It is in this respect that perhaps the greatest service and the greatest damage is done.  If we can realize that in making a judgment we are puffing ourselves up at the cost of others, then we can turn away from judgment and pick up compassion where we left off.  If, on the other hand, we confirm ourselves in our judgment and stand on our right to judge, then we once again condemn ourselves through making the judgment--we live in our arrogance and in our pride and we wall ourselves off from the needs of others.

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