The Nature of Being Judgmental


I am a very critical and judgmental person.

I recently realized how serious my critical nature has become when the first words out of my mouth to a person who had just completed making a perfectly thoughtful remark was, “But isn’t it…?”  Being critical has become so second nature to me that I have developed a pattern of “disagree first, think later.”

It is admittedly an unattractive character trait.

To be sure, I am burdened with many other character flaws, narcissism being the most obvious.  But I’d like to think that I’m doing okay with most of the other flaws since I have enough self-perception to concede that I have a problem.  After all, a first step towards recovery is admitting that I have a problem.

I can’t say the same about my judgmental nature.

It’s not that I deny I am constantly judging and critiquing what others say, do and think.  It’s rather that I try to rationalize and legitimize it by telling myself that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I’m equally critical about myself–critical because I care.  Passing judgment is a reflection of how I try to hold everyone, including myself, to the highest of standards in every way possible.  I simply don’t think it’s okay for people to give less than their best, to not be ethical, to not be respectful, to not be fair, to not have fun, and generally, to not be the best human being that one can be.  Otherwise, I always ask, what’s the point of being on this earth?

This stance hasn’t come without some occasional discomfort.

When I was in college, I attended a lecture given by a fellow student that I had known for a pretty long time through a campus Christian organization that was sponsoring the talk.  The topic of his talk was on being judgmental and the ways in which it amounted to a personal sin.  While I’m sure the speaker didn’t intend this, as I sat in the front row, I sensed his constant eye contact as if he was telling me that the lecture was about me.

It says volumes about how I’m dealing–or, more accurately, not dealing–with my judgmental nature that I recall almost nothing substantive from the lecture.

Although I don’t recall even the gist of the speaker’s explanation that day as to why being judgmental is a sin, based on my imperfect understanding of Christianity, I would think that it goes something like this:  the only being who is in the position to judge an individual person is God, who is a loving and forgiving God, and if God is willing to forgive the person, who am I, a mere mortal human being, to judge that person?

It may be difficult to believe, but this is a point that is not lost on me.  As self-righteous as I can get, I do understand that ultimately, I cannot be certain that the answers I have to the big and small questions of this world are correct.  Religion plays a role in this concession, for only God is omniscient, but it’s also part of basic human decency: there are billions of people in this world, and, despite some disturbing exceptions, most of the people are decent human beings whose opinions are entitled to be respected and given their due.

But I’ve always had trouble bridging the gap between this acknowledgement of my personal fallibility and my conviction that not only does it matter whether I do right, doing right is ultimately the only thing that matters.  It cannot possibly be that just because I cannot know for absolute certainty what is right and what is wrong, I shouldn’t worry about promoting doing right.

And from this it naturally flows that it’s important to have convictions, for it’s impossible to do right without basing it on strong beliefs.  And while I concede that I’m not infallible, I also think that my reasoning and emoting capabilities are more than sufficient for me to develop thoughtful, moral convictions that are defendable and on which I can base my actions and words.

I’m not sure how to address this conundrum of conceding that my judgmental nature is a character flaw, yet believing that is wholly legitimate.  Certainly I can be less eager to immediately jump to conclusions, give people a fair say, and be more measured in my dealings with others.  But I’m not sure that addresses the underlying issue since regardless of whether I remain silent or not, it doesn’t change the fact that I remain, at heart, quite judgmental.  After all, even on the rare occasions now that I remain silent, the only thought going through my head is why the speaker is wrong and what I will or should say to show him that.

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