I believe it is our job as human beings to figure out our mission and decide how we are going to conduct ourselves in the world as it relates to our family, our friends, our colleagues, our communities, our region, state, country. We do this on a moment-by-moment basis, often without even realizing the work that goes into considering what we are taking in, how we are organizing it and how and why we then respond to that input.
In this season of intense political turmoil, we as citizens of this country are asked to determine who earns our vote. Sometimes we vote based on the party to which we belong, automatically voting along party lines. We trust those within our party to make decisions for candidates who represent the values of our chosen party. Others of us pay attention to political ads and articles in the media that describe the values and beliefs of each candidate. And some do not choose to vote and leave the decisions of how this country will be led up to those who do vote.
I think it can be helpful to differentiate between the degrees to which we are judging people, whether in the political arena or in the relationships we experience day-to-day, versus the degrees to which we assess what we are experiencing and based on those assessments, draw (not jump to!) conclusions. For me, it is important to reduce judgment since I’m unable to determine underlying motives, competencies and values of another person. Instead I choose to assess individuals and situations by gathering as many facts as possible, determining which are facts and which are opinions and recognizing that opinions may or may not match my own value system.
Judging others often involves a great deal of emotionality. When people are judging others, they seem confident they know that person’s motivations and can be very rigid about their beliefs even when there seems to be evidence to the contrary. The saying, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up!” comes to mind.
When someone works to objectively assess people or situations, they maintain an open mind when new facts appear. They consider opinions on both sides to determine why others feel strongly about something and use what they are viewing to guide them in their assessment process. While there certainly can be emotions attached to beliefs, their emotions are not what determine their decisions. The person who assesses seeks a kind of fairness and openness to the possibility that there’s more to a person or a story than meets the eye.
Ultimately, we do have to make final decisions. We decide who we trust, who we feel safe with, who we can be transparent and vulnerable with. It can be helpful to review the degrees to which we attempted to gather facts and consider as many aspects of a situation or person as we possibly can before making a final decision about it or them. And, whenever possible, know that we might change our minds if more facts surface.
Judging also often involves labeling a person, group or situation. Judging can involve ascribing motives. It can also involve blaming. In some ways it’s easier to be someone who judges more than assesses. Judging can make a person feel self-righteous and superior to those who do not hold the same opinions. Someone who judges sometimes experiences a kind of relief because they don’t have to do the work of sorting through facts and maintaining a high level of flexibility with regard to ultimate decisions they may need to make.
Assessing can be part of holding an individual or group accountable for things they say or do and the impact they appear to be having. This accountability is based on collecting as many facts as possible before that determination is made.
I suspect it’s obvious that I favor assessing over judging and encourage my readers to spend time considering what they tend to do. One side benefit I see in being more of an assessor than judger is in modeling and teaching our children to embrace the value of careful consideration and critical thinking about our world. We can teach them to appreciate that when we have certain powers, like voting, which impacts major decisions that shape our country, we do so with a high degree of personal integrity when we take the time and effort to carefully assess what our decisions will ultimately be.
Invitation for Reflection
- Do you consider yourself a person who is a critical thinker and careful consumer when making decisions? When you think about a recent decision you made, were you assessing or judging?
- How might being more of an assessor versus more judging impact your own personal integrity or the way you conduct your life?
- To what extent are you willing to take the time and work involved in assessing a person or situation?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute