Judgment serves a purpose in our lives by giving us the ability to draw conclusions of what is safe vs. dangerous, good vs. bad, normal vs. abnormal, or beautiful vs. hideous. Most of these mentioned dichotomies do not hold absolute truth, but are only arbitrary perceptions that are influenced by culture, beliefs, values, available knowledge, and serve as a form of “social regulation”.
All of us have had to undergo the experience of someone judging us. The experience can be either pleasurable, painful, or at times, not have any meaning to the person being judged depending on the verdict that is delivered, as well as the relationship between the judge and the judged, and the ability of the judged person to recognize the meaning of the judgment. For example, the judgment or diagnosis by a psychologist of problematic signs in a young child holds importance for the parents, but has very little personal significance to the child personally, because the child has no perception of what that judgment (and yes a diagnosis is a form of judgment) means.
I think it is safe to assume that most of us have experienced both the delight and pain of being judged. Before we frolic in the delight of being positively judged, or wallow in the depths of rejection for being negatively judged, we need to consider not only the meaning of the judgment, but also the purpose and intent of the judge and judgment. I think we have fooled ourselves into believing that we go through a phase during childhood and adolescents were we tend to conform to our peers, which we tend to believe makes us more likely to be over judgmental of others at any other time in our lives. Before we accept this as a truth, watch a bunch of adolescent pick and tear apart another person based on her appearance, and then watch a group of adults go through the same process of someone that does not fit into their “truth” of what is normal and acceptable.
This past year, I was involved in a campaign pushing for women to be allowed legally to drive in Saudi Arabia. I was not a pivotal player in this movement, although I did take up the cause through the use of social media, as well as getting behind the wheel and driving myself a couple of different times. I have experienced the pain of being without transportation and having a family to take care of and at times being a prisoner in my own home because my husband is out of town, or because a driver had decided to leave our unemployment unexpectedly. The issues involved in women not being allowed to drive is another blog, or for that matter, a book which maybe I will write in the future, but delving into the complicated issue is not my intent. The purpose of bringing up this issue is to illustrate how people use “judgment” as a way to instill fear through labeling and passing judgments against those who dare to break the rules of what the majority of people in a social group consider normal and acceptable within their immediate social realms.
My involvement in the campaign came with many judgments, some judgments from people close to me, as well as some people that I have never met. The judgments were a mixture of support and admiration to disdain, name-calling, and threats. The positive support and judgments I have to admit bolstered my identity, and actually encouraged my behavior to go further into the movement. Although the comments labeling me as a whore, infidel, law breaker, as well as threats also had a negative effect in making me question myself, as well as my actions that had led me to living in Saudi Arabia. I was told by people, whose opinion I valued, that I had overstepped my boundaries because I am a Westerner (although I do hold Saudi citizenship), and should respect the local customs.
What I learned through this experience, as well as other experiences, is that judgment not only serves as a form of social control, but it also serves as a form of hierarchical system to rank people according to some socially constructed system. In a way, a jockeying for position and prestige based on a socially observed construct such as appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, social class, level of social conformity, or some other form of grouping that humans have constructed. The cognitive function that humans developed as a mechanism to size up situations in regards to the best course of action to take for survival, has transformed into a process of evaluation of the worth of others and ourselves. A process that is constructed in trying to not only instill in ourselves that somehow we are superior, but also trying to reinforce to others our superior worth as well.
I sometimes find myself wishing that I could return to the state of the newborn baby, with limited knowledge of the social judgments around me. Perhaps not the newborn baby, but the toddler who had developed some level of independence, but has experienced minimal conditioning, that has not constrained their way of thinking and acting based on their social world. Negative and positive judgments are both formed on some standard that we have developed through our interaction in the world that not only actively engages us in the process of judging ourselves, but others. As our world around us socializes us in respect to the various truths that pervade the earth, the creativity of many of us is shaped and warped with the intent of gaining the positive judgments of those around us. Even the non-conformist seeks to gain the approval of the other non-conformist, a phenomenon that has gained popularity in recent years. By the way, I can honestly say that I actually relate to this non-conformist paradigm, but I yearn for the senses of my younger years when my way of seeing and exploring the world were based on some type of child logic, untethered by the judgments of others or myself.