Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of people about judgement. Some people think spiritual practice is complete absence of judgement. But rather than shun judgement, I’d much rather debate it. What it is. How we judge, when we judge, why we judge. How we relate or fail to relate to others. In a personal context, in a professional context. From a distance. (Because “judgement” often connotes condemnation, superiority, or insults, I often use “discernment,” though I consider them fairly interchangeable.) I prefer to debate about judgement/discernment because it’s inevitable. Often it comes from other inevitable things. Conflict, for example—we will never all agree all of the time. So when we disagree, my objective is not necessarily converting the opinions of others. When a concensus is not possible, I am much more concerned with a respectful tolerance of differing opinions. To be very clear, in light of the sadly frequent instances of domestic terrorism in the US: in this context I mean conflict of ideas, not actions. I think free thought is important, and I place little priority on debating with people who have no interest in other perspectives. So, someone who wants to hate Muslims, gays, etc for whatever reasons is welcome to think whatever he wants. But I do not believe that free thought must allow free action. Meaning that the same person who hates Muslims, gays, etc does not have justification to act upon those thoughts.

SK © 2015

SK © 2015

A recent example of judgement was a friend telling me that although I pride myself on being open-hearted, I’m actually quite judgemental. I hope that most of the time the former is actually true (as opposed to only my pride about it). This post reflects on perspectives about the latter. I think judgement, and all the debate that rightfully belongs with it, is a vital part of spiritual practice. Spiritual practice requires, even demands, that we make some judgements. Not because all judgements are welcome, of course. But I do think spiritual practice calls for intentional, careful discernment. How else can we determine, according to our own values, how to live? Thus I want space for discernment, in all directions. I never want to be so stubborn that I can’t hear criticism. This is an important part of my spiritual practice—that I hear and honor differing opinions, always considering their validity. And so I have. In the past year, I’ve been called a liar, a gossip, a thief (of ideas), a hypocrite, a fanatic, and a snob. Also selfish, self-centered, arrogant, childish, and unintelligent. For the record, I don’t think I’m right in every instance of conflict. But even if I do think I’m right, I still want to know the judgements. Simply having another person’s perspective can be sufficient to prove that I have been careless or insensitive. Even when people confront me rudely and aggressively, I still want to know the judgements. As much as I want people to be respectful, how they approach ultimately doesn’t matter in terms of whether I should listen. I make a lot of mistakes, so the radical honesty from those who confront me is much appreciated. The inevitable challenges I have in relating to others have always been a rich source of growth. I have learned that sometimes: ~ I am far too direct, and I come across as aggressive ~ I am not direct enough enough, and I seem careless or disrespectful to others ~ I can come across as harsh, in my efforts to be honest ~ I have unreconcilable opinions with another person ~ I can be so caught up in my own life and my ego that I fail to be sensititve to the needs of others So I start with me. There are positive judgements too, certainly. I’ve been called courageous, inspirational, disciplined, mature, compassionate—among other things. Some of those judgements also came during challenging situations. They are further proof that it’s important for me to discern yet another layer (for myself) in these debates. Because I have also learned that sometimes people can insult out of insecurity or shame or jealousy, so I don’t have to accept all the criticism. Just as sometimes people can attribute too much credit to me and over-compliment, so I don’t have to accept all the affirmation. I don’t believe that being open-hearted and being able to judge/discern are mutually exclusive. Debating judgement can, of course, be very uncomfortable. But it’s important because both extremes of judgement—complete lack or complete bombardment—are useless. The belief that being open-minded or open-hearted requires total condonement is just as dangerous as justifying blanket condemnation or prejudice. Just as no one deserves unnecessary prejudice, no one deserves a guarantee of approval. No one should be above criticism. Just because I intend to be a kind, tolerant person doesn’t mean that I actually succeed all the time. I rely on these debates; all the lessons are worth the uncomfortable, difficult moments.

U4MEI4U SK © 2015

SK © 2015

Integrity and authenticity are some of the qualities I value most. In the hopes of maintaining them, I will continue observing, debating, listening, sharing. SK © 2015


About stephanie francesca

Stephanie Francesca lives a life of eclectic and ecstatic passion. In no particular order, she is a writer, yogini, musician, teacher, nomad, lover, thinker, reader, dancer. She strives to balance effort with surrender, precision with laughter. Live life, love live, live love.
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9 Responses to discernment

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  4. Francine says:

    It is to your credit, Stephanie, that you can welcome feedback from others. Sometimes people are too insecure to allow this. When others share their perceptions, there is the potential that they can “grow” us. For every sentiment shared with me, I can find that at some time or other in my life, I have manifested those qualities, both positive and negative. There was a time in my life when the opinions of others had a lot of power over me. One of the blessings of getting older is that I am more than ever “independent of the good opinion of other people,” in the words of Abraham Maslow. What freedom from fear! Criticism doesn’t really hurt me and complements don’t build me up. I just see them as observations from other people and I thank them for sharing those observations with me. How wonderful it is to be a “senior citizen!” This is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in my own skin!!

  5. castleblake says:

    This is powerful.
    “Both extremes of judgement—complete lack or complete bombardment—are useless.
    The belief that being open-minded or open-hearted requires total condonement is just as dangerous as justifying blanket condemnation or prejudice.”

    • Thanks so much. Once I realized that, I had a much easier time navigating through destructive judgements—coming from unnecessary harshness, fear, etc—and constructive ones, which show paths towards growth.

      Probably we’ve all received or given judgements which are true and useful, but communicated in a destructive way. Communication, then, becomes another huge part of facing these challenges.

  6. Perugrine says:

    According to body psychotherapy, being judgmental is a “mask” we wear to protect us from having a deep longing for love and acceptance from our parents. Typically called “upholding”, there’s an attitude of superiority and we “rise above” others so we become unreachable, so to speak. Upholding comes from when the primary parent, usually the mother, is rejecting, and the child then goes to the father around 2 years old. The father will “join in” with the child against the mother. By the age of about 4, the father loses interest in the child’s attention, so the child experiences a double rejection. In order to protect, the child will be “better than you” in order to cut off from the longing for the parents. This is not activated until teenage years. Eventually, the child loses contact with the longing completely. Upholders give up intimacy because they are afraid to express a need for contact, have fears around being dependent, they don’t feel backed up or supported, don’t trust, and are often bullied or seduced and not granted good boundaries. Behind the superiority is an incredible need. There is a lot of contempt for soft feelings because it hides the depth of their need to be recognized and the terror of having that need. There is a real terror of feeling longing because of the risk of getting rejected or betrayed. The upholder is constantly defending against everything and power is security.

    The gifts of the upholder are they have an impeccable sense of justice and can fight like hell for social causes. They easily spot injustices.

    According to body psychotherapy, losing contact with the deep longing prevents us from connecting to our life force energy, the core of our being.

    When we can connect back to our deep longing, it’s a precious and scary experience that expands the heart. In that light, I would say that everyone does deserve “guarantee of approval” as you word it. I would say instead, everyone deserves to be viewed from a heart space. No one is above criticism, but I would say that there’s no hierarchy.

    Love you my friend!

    • Thanks for sharing that. It shows a big limitation in semantics, in that the word “judgement” is often associated with a sense of superiority. In this post, I mean judgement in the sense of acknowledging or confronting something you think is wrong. Hopefully without the condescension or harshness of “judgement,” if you’ll allow the confusing diction. But again, I consider constructive judgement as interchangeable with discernment, in that both address the act of labeling, constructively, for the sake of integrity.

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