Defining Judgment

An eighth-grade leadership class sits down for a group discussion. The topic? Judgement.

As the class period progresses, it becomes clear that the general group opinion is that any negative “judgement” of another person is bad. One girl, who disagrees but doesn’t know how to articulate it, sits in frustrated silence.

We are taught, in America, to “be nice”- to not judge others. This is drummed into children from an early age by liberals brandishing the slogan “We don’t want to offend anyone,” advocated by teachers and schools, preached when we see a forty-year-old unemployed woman on welfare or drug addicts or a foster kid with ugly clothes. “Don’t judge them- you may not know the whole story.”

To really look at this issue, we have to define the term “judgment.” Merriam-Webster informs us that judgment means: “(n) 1. an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought 2. the act or process of forming and opinion or making a decision after careful thought 3. The ability to make good decisions about what should be done.” In terms of criminal activity, the definition given is “A formal decision given by a court.” This would seem, on the surface, to be a good thing; the rational conclusion of a logical thought process or the handing down of fair sentence upon someone for their crimes. And with that definition we find the problem with this word and the difficulties people have understanding it. Judgment is based off of what people choose to do with the things that are within their control.

In a court of law in the United States of America, criminals receive exceptions if they can be proved to have a mental disorder that caused them to commit a crime- in short, if they were driven into crime by something they could not control and did not choose. You can choose to rob a house; you do not choose to have a mental disease that drives you to shoot someone on the street. In the Jim Crow way of forming an opinion about someone based off of their skin color, it is unfair and amoral to judge a person based off of something out of their control. Racism and sexism are based off of this sort of illogical thinking. On the other hand, a criminal of sane and healthy mind who shoots someone and is caught will go to court; a judgment will be handed down, and it will most likely be prison. The difference between these two cases is choice.

Of course, things tend to be a little more black-and-white in courts of law. Innocent or guilty. There is a lot more gray area in our personal lives and in the political world about how and when and by whom people ought to be judged.

Let’s look at those two examples from earlier. The foster kid, obviously, has no choice in this situation. Let’s say she was put up for adoption at birth, went into foster care, and is now living in a decent home with two overworked people and four other kids. It is not likely that there will be a lot of money for fashionable clothes and name brand-jeans. Now, this kid could get a job, if they’re over 16, but in that situation it would be smarter for her to save her money for more important things- college, a car, an apartment. In a school, it is rightfully considered bullying for others to mock this girl for her clothing or her lack of expensive makeup and jewelry and possessions.

On the other hand, we have the forty-year-old woman, unemployed, living off of foodstamps. Let’s imagine that she has two children, both of whom have reasonably successful jobs and try to send their mother money to help her get out of her situation. This woman is, on a whole, healthy- maybe not in great shape, but she is not ill, she is of sound mind and body. Yet she does not work. Why not? Because she does not want to. Because she chooses to stay in the life she has rather than get a job, make her own money, rent a nicer apartment, and get off of welfare.

Think about how liberal anti-judgmentalists will view this woman. They will cry for compassion, for the money of the wealthy and successful to help lift her out of her poverty when she is perfectly capable of lifting herself. The implication is that any sort of judgment would be wrong and unfair, because perhaps this woman has had a lot of hardships in her past and a good reason for being poor. We may instinctively cling to this explanation, as it is, on the surface, kind and compassionate. The problem is that monetary handouts will not be likely to help our fictional character. In the same way that politicians are much less frugal with taxpayer money than with their own salaries, this woman, upon receiving money from the government and from her well-meaning children, probably won’t spend it well. A fancy purse, perhaps, or a nice car; both of these things are luxuries, but when in poverty it makes little sense to have a nice purse and a nice car and live in a dumpy little apartment. The woman becomes increasingly dependent on money handouts and her sense of responsibility for her own choices drops into the tank.

BUT, if she is “judged,” if society decides to hold her responsible for her own decisions, she will no longer receive as many foodstamps. Perhaps she will get none at all, since she is unemployed by choice. Her children might still send her money, but if society as a whole expects people who are capable of supporting themselves to do so, then maybe the kids won’t feel as obligated to send their mother money that she spends irresponsibly. Now the woman is forced to get a job. It might be minimum wage; if she has a degree in accounting or a certificate of graduation from a vocational school, then she can probably get a pretty good job if she wears nice clothes and puts herself together and is polite at the interview. We live in an age when help and advice of all kinds is available for free on the Internet, and Internet access and computers are free at public libraries. Moreover, a number of laundromats will clean your clothes for free if you are unemployed and need it for a job interview. If she is willing to be frugal and careful with her money, and to make an effort, and work hard at her job, then the woman can lift herself out of poverty and become self-sufficient, an entirely more desirable outcome than adding another person to the ever-growing list of those who rely on government aid just to survive. This is the vision that the Founders had for America; this is the spirit that has made our country great, and could make it even greater.

I am in no way advocating harsh decisions and a change in policy that leaves everyone to fend entirely for themselves. What needs to happen is for people to accept that judgment is a good thing. It is a necessary part of society by which people conform to a moral and legal standard and by which people learn to be responsible for themselves, their children, and their choices. What needs to happen is for Americans to realize that judgment based on the choices people make is not a bad thing, or an unfair thing. It is a notable part of the foundation upon which our country is built, and it is something that we need to preserve.

-Reyna Medley

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