I believe in serendipity and after tonight’s dinner conversation about judging people, I was struck by Gonzalo Lira’s essay on our collective unwillingness to make judgments. Mr. Lira makes his case about our unwillingness to pass judgment, especially in light of former Vice-President Cheney’s recent book being issued shortly. His stance, eerily similar to mine, is that we have to be willing to make judgments as we go through life and that these judgments are best predicated upon some basis of morality. If there’s no framework for making decisions based upon a common sense of right and wrong, then decisions are reduced to the more base calculations of economic, social and political self-interest.
I am a child of the 1970s and actually nodded my head as I read Lira’s spot-on commentary:
"Starting with the 1970’s, our society has marinated in the notion that no one has a right to judge how you live: You can do your own thing, to borrow the phrase from the time. Not only does society not have the right to judge the way you live as to its rightness or wrongness—society does not have the right to judge you. "
The dude’s got it right. I recall conversations with my Red Forman-esque father, who passed judgments frequently and as I later came to recognize, with uncanny accuracy. I had my own set of rules that I’d adopted – yes, I actually wrote up a series of basic rules for living my life – and foremost of which was that everybody had a story to tell and a right to be heard. It didn’t sink in that listening and drawing someone out required an ability to not make judgments lest the person be offended and their story not be heard. I was fed by the decade’s mantra also because making a judgment is an inherent criticism, for better or worse. The person on the receiving end of the judgment will likely be upset and in the age of Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street and the Electric Company, we wouldn’t want to upset someone because that wouldn’t be nice and might hurt their feelings. My father would listen to me and point out how things were and there were moments, like Eric and Red Forman, when he flat out called me a dumbass.
What I realize thirty plus years later is that that was part of his job as a father. First, kids and teens are acutely aware of the social order and the social interactions amongst them can be brutal and cruel; they simply haven’t had the time to grow the thick skin that comes with experience and many are consequently loathe to say anything that sounds critical or judgmental. Parents have to worry about putting a roof over the head and food on the table and kids worry about whether or not they’re liked by their peers and anything that endangers that desire for love is anathema. Second, morality is learned instead of instinctual and if someone isn’t willing to demonstrate that being moral sometimes requires a rather hardheaded attitude, then the kids simply won’t learn because they haven’t seen it. Going along to get along isn’t always the best choice for handling a situation.
So who am I to make judgments?
- I’m the guy who’s been around long enough to recognize the potential for a train wreck.
- I’m the guy who’s willing to incur both your wrath and the wrath of others when they discover that I really don’t trust them, and kids talk enough that they will learn precisely that.
- I’m the guy who’s ultimately legally responsible for your actions until you reach the age of adulthood.
- I’m the guy that will talk to you even after there’s been a significant blow-up, which isn’t always certain with friends and peers.
Until you’re either willing to make value judgments or are old enough to entertain the legal and moral consequences of not making them, then I’ll make whatever judgments I believe need to be made.