30 May 2009

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What’s wrong with being judgemental? (essay by Richard)

Dear friends,

Richard has asked me to send you the essay he has written for tomorrow. I am also including mine; I correct the typo which Richard quotes although I still have to read his essay.



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What's wrong with being judgemental?

Before we go to the point, we must agree on what being judgemental means. Otherwise there is no sense in starting a discussion.

Lawrence says: "The make negative value judgements, which may also be moral judgements, about someone or someone's behaviour without seeming to take into account all the relevant facts or evidence". I would like to know what "all the relevant facts" are. Which facts are relevant and which ones are not? One must be as cool as a cucumber to judge which facts are relevant, a sort of third party. But that is not a solution either, because a third party can also be judgemental. So, how to get out of this dilemma?

Cultural differences should be respected but without exaggeration. In the 90s in Lisbon one still could find Africans or Gypsies living in blocks of houses and using bathtubs for their mini-plantation fields instead of using the facilities for their usual purpose. The "advantage" for the neighbours was tremendous, those who invented green-houses n«in their bathrooms literally stank. Never trouble's trouble till trouble troubles you. As you are not affected by the sweet smell, you stand as a good guy in defence of the respect towards other cultures. By criticising their behaviour you are judgemental. And it is wrong to be judgemental, especially now, because the fashion is different. It is better to be as close as possible to such people, for instance taking a lift with them but not once in a while but on everyday basis. Once you do it and having to repeat the prowess many times, sooner or later you will put aside your values of respecting different cultures.

Concerning the example quoted by Lawrence about giving birth, we think that the medical profession rightly raises their hue and cry. If something goes wrong, it could be too late to send the expectant mother to hospital. All this boils down to the education level that crushes superstitions and at the same time strange practices, meaning certain aspect of culture.

Another example that comes to my mind is female circumcision largely practised in Muslim countries. Should we respect such practices in order to avoid our risking of making judgements?

Sometime ago on German tv I saw a mixed couple living in Germany (he was Muslim and under some naïve pretext of visiting his family, he wanted to take their daughter with her so that a clitorial excision could be performed on the adolescent girl. But his German partner thought that something fishy was around and stopped the whole expedition in time. He protested in court of law because of alleged lack of freedom of intending to make an innocent trip but fortunately the daughter spilt the beans. Another example of a person being judgemental. It is really wrong to be judgemental…

WHO is also judgemental by intervening in the whole practice of female circumcision because it should respect cultural tradition… Is it what Lawrence suggests? By the same token if in today's world there were practices of human sacrifice as they used to be in ancient cultures, in the name of respecting other cultures, we should not interfere. Shouldn't we really?

We think that in the whole issue something is terribly wrong.

Let put aside for a moment the discussion and have a look at some dictionaries for the lexical entry JUDGEMENTAL.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2007:1474, vol.1) says that to be judgemental involves "the exercise of judgement or inclined to make moral judgement. It does not specify whether the expression has a derogative meaning.

And Cobuild's Real English Dictionary says that one who is judgemental "they are too quick to form their opinion" although it does not specify what "too quick" means. And it adds that the expression is often (not always) used in the derogative meaning. We wonder whether one, in order to pass judgement, must have a PhD in the matter concerned or his qualifications are not sufficient either. If that is the case, I give in and recognize my defeat.

But my little bird tells me that I am not wrong. Whatever the case, we think that the solution to the problem is quite simple. Only in the cases when a person throws their weight around thinking big of themselves judging others' actions or behaviour can be considered judgemental in its pejorative meaning. In all other cases it means simply to pass judgement, to express your negative opinion about somebody's behaviour or their action.

"I am afraid, I don't like your hair-do" said by a person even to their partner is not a crime or a sin. Is the person being judgemental in a derogative sense? Not at all!

The problem being that in practice any critical opinion is considered judgemental by a person being criticized or by their supporters. But isn't it a paradox that those who protest against others' being judgemental, aren't they judgemental themselves? After all they also pass judgement on those who, they think are judgemental. It reminds me of a proverb: The pot calls the cattle black as in other languages with the respective literal translation:
PT Diz a panela para a sertã: chega-te para lá, porque me enfarruscas.
"Says the pan to the frying-pan: move-yourself over there, because me you blacken"
ES Quien dice a quien: el caldero a la sartén.
Dijo la sartén a la caldera: quítate de allá, culinegra.
DE Ein Esel schimpft den andern Sackträger / Langohr.
"A donkey reproaches the other sack-bearer / long-eared"
SE Ve dig, så svart du är, sa grytan till kitteln.
"Hey you, so black you are, said pan-the to frying-pan-the"
PL Kocioł garnkowi przygania, a sam smoli.
"Cauldron pan reproaches, but itself blackens"
Kto drugiemu łaje, niech sam przykład daje
"Who other reproaches, let him example set"
RU Gorshok kotlu smejotsja, a oba tchorny.
"Pan cauldron (Dat) laughs-itself (Refl), but both black"
Ne sudi drugix za to v tchjom sam ne bez grexa
"Don't judge others for that that [you] yourself not without sin"

An obvious thing is that nobody likes being criticized especially in moral terms and in most cases people defend themselves by saying that those who are critical are judgemental. And here, we think, is the root of the whole misunderstanding.

I have pointed out in my previous essays that this aspect has a larger sense and fits the pattern: ridiculous European pacifism (Oriana Fallaci says that if the things go on following this tendency, Europe in the long run will give itself in as a soft touch attacked by the fundamental militia Muslims. In the name of peace, Europeans will not shoot at anybody and will end up as slaves. We will become Euroarabia. I will permit myself to remind you of the proverb I have used on different occasions in our debates:
UK If you want peace, prepare for war.
PT Se queres paz, prepara-te para a guerra.
"If you want peace, prepare yourself (Refl) for the war"
ES Si quieres paz, prepárate para la guerra.
Quien espada lleva, paz trae.
DE Wer Friede haben will, muss zum Kriege rüsten.
"Who peace have wants (=wants to have), must for-the war arm"
SE Om du vill fred, rusta för krig. "If you want peace, arm for war"
PL Jeśli chcesz pokoju, szykuj się do wojny "If you want peace, get-ready to war"
RU Xotchesh' mira - gotovsja k vojne "You want peace, prepare yourself (Refl) to war"

Another factor that also fits the picture is to be positive and show this positive attitude, even if you have lost your love, your children, etc., you should keep smiling and keep thinking positively. Don't show that you are depressed (you are ridiculous if you do that). To this pattern "don't be judgemental" is also added. Don't pass judgements, respect others even if they don't respect you, because if you show any improper reaction you will cause a chain reaction that could develop first to an argument and then to war and war is not welcome. Only bloody-minded people love wars.

Our lives are complicated and a lot of people struggle to make both ends meet, problems are at every corner and everyone of us has problems, because life in itself is a problem. Only when we step down from this world will the problems for us disappear altogether. I don't think that deceiving ourselves by being always optimistic and positive is a good remedy for us. But one thing is certain, people are sick and tired of listening to problems of others. Any complaint is not welcomed, any attitude which is not positive is dismissed as an intention of making ourselves the victim.

Obviously there is no need of going into other extreme and paint everything black as the Stones did in the 60s in their hit "Paint it black".

I have consulted the Google limited to the UK on the matter of being judgemental and I have found voices like these:

"I think what needs to be differentiated here is the difference between "judgemental" and "prejudgemental". Being judgemental isn't in and of itself a bad thing. Our opinions form the judgements we make. Indeed, one of the most respected professions in the country, where the members of that profession are, ideally, the pinnacle of good moral fibre and sound ethical calibre, is a judge.

Where problems occur is where people prejudge a person, situation, or theory. Prejudice is one of the worst traits in humanity and underpins many a violent, unthinking, and simply poorly considered act. However, where an opinion is developed after consideration of the facts, the moral and ethical factors, and any other points of relevance, then a judgement will be made for better or worse".

"All judges have to be judgmental because the act of being judgmental is to make a decision about something, and that is the basic job of a judge. You can be judgmental without being emotional and biased".

There are a lot of opinions, although the majority is inclined to the pejorative sense, which we ascribe to today's "fashion".

We are glad that a highly controversial subject is going to be discussed. At least we have managed to set the cat among the pigeons.

To finish with, apart from the situation mentioned, we are of the opinion that it is nothing wrong to be judgemental. The question is how your judgements are formulated and how they are presented. After all we cannot bask in positive judgements only. We must build our lives on real lives. We live in Spain, but building castles in Spain is not the only recipe for our lives, although it is nothing wrong to practice this activity from time to time.

Look after yourselves

What is wrong with being judgemental?

What does "being judgemental" mean? And although meaning is not the same as definition, I will start by proposing a definition.

To (corrected from original) make negative value judgements, which may also be moral judgements, about someone or someone's behaviour without seeming to take into account all the relevant facts or evidence.

We might deem a practice as being wrong, for example unsupervised child birth at home, without considering the cultural or traditional practice of the mother. The meaning is to show lack of sensitivity or regard to other people's feelings or beliefs when expressing an opinion about them.

It is self evident, or at least ought to be, that making judgments about others without considering material facts or evidence is not to be encouraged, if not down right unacceptable.

However, this still leaves open the questions, what constitutes "material facts"? And how many material facts are required to qualify us to make a value judgment about others? But these methodology issues, I would argue, are empirical issues in the sense that we can decide on what qualifies someone to make value judgements on a case by case basis.

For example, we can condemn unhealthy snack eaters because we happen not to like snacks such as crisps, or we can criticise, snack eaters because studies have shown that such snacks are unhealthy. (see this story that appeared in the Daily Mail in 2006: Schoolboy punished for 'having two unhealthy snacks' http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-410292/Schoolboy-punished-having-unhealthy-snacks.html : 16:07 13 October 2006). Does our ability to dislike something qualify us to criticise those who happen to like the things we don't like? But are scientific studies a sufficient condition to give us the right to condemn others? In the story of the young boy, the boy was forced to have lunch in the head's office because his parents packed two snacks which is against school health guidelines sent to parents.

But there is an equally important issue in a debate on being judgemental. Whatever the justification for the person making the value judgement is, what matters for that person to be called judgemental is the opinion of the "victim" or those who disagree with this person making the judgement. Of course, those who agree with this person wouldn't call him judgemental but maybe perceptive, wise, fair etc.

This introduces the idea of what is fair? What can we judge others on and what is out of bounds? In today's world, top ticket issues would involve culture, tradition, religion, and race.

Consider this report that appeared in Women's eNews: Bolivia Pushes Birthing Practices Closer to Home
Run Date: 11/30/08 By Jean Friedman-Rudovsky WeNews correspondent: http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3839/context/cover/..

The issue in this article is that although the Bolivian government has made birth health care for women free, with a noticeable degree of success, many indigenous women either do not have access to this service or do not feel at all comfortable in a hospital setting. For example, indigenous women are empowered during childbirth because this is one of the very few occasions they have when the male (husband) is doing what the woman (wife) is asking him to do; cook, look after the other children etc. However, in hospitals, fathers and family members are not allowed near the women giving birth because it is unsanitary or as one hospital staffer is quoted as saying; what if the husband of one woman sees another woman's private parts?

Another example given in the article is of a doctor, "chided his patient for her 'dirty rituals' (burying the placenta after childbirth)."

This story surely illustrates the case that culture and tradition are rife with examples of being judgemental. Of course, bedside manners, information and understanding others will go a long way. For example, some doctors now go to villages in the mountains where women give birth at home but if there are complications the doctor intervenes or sends the patient to hospital. And by allowing women to have visitors in hospital surgical interventions were reduced.

However, the big issue or rather problem begins when we fail to consider the evidence. Or when we are prejudiced or racist that prevents us from considering any objective evidence. Sometimes maybe because we want to be prejudiced and sometimes maybe because we have been indoctrinated.

The problem for an objective observer would therefore be, to distinguish the bigots from the innocent and the naive.

Take care


from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: What's wrong with being judgemental? (essay by Richard)

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