Delphine was shocked when she first visited Palestine. She discovered a massive wall slicing brutally through towns and farms, keeping people from work, schools, hospitals, and sometimes their families. She found a land in which soldiers suddenly appeared, taking men away without explanation, locking them up without trial. She saw a country where roads were built on which only some could travel. She visited homes in which water, gas, and electricity were turned off for no reason. And she saw a land in which generation after generation of men, women, and children were forced to endure life in crowded internment camps.
It’s not your land, she was told. It’s not your battle. This has been going on for decades. You can’t possibly know or understand all the facts. You shouldn’t judge.
However, Delphine did judge, and as a result chose to devote her life to doing whatever she could to change this situation.
“Don’t be judgmental,” we’re often told.
Why not? We all are judgmental every day. This idea of not judging is typically American and seems to come from a misguided sense of “equality.” All behaviors, however, are not equal, just as all talents are not equal. (There I am, already, being judgmental.)
That driver went through the red light. Bad behavior. A judgment.
That man hits his wife and children. Bad behavior.
My neighbor’s house is filled with newspapers and garbage. Obviously, he’s a hoarder who lives in a firetrap. A judgment based on observation and logic. If his house burns down, mine might, as well. This is not good.
I have friends who are good painters, but they’re not Rembrandt. I know people who are fine writers, but they’re not Shakespeare. All human beings are entitled to equal opportunities in life, but they’re not born with equal abilities. This judgment is based on specific criteria and observation.
To have meaning, judgments need to based on objective, identifiable facts. If someone is constantly late, that’s rude behavior. If someone else is always in debt because of credit card bills, that’s irresponsible behavior. These are judgments based on logic. In America, we seem to have the notion that it’s wrong to judge other people’s behavior. Of course, we also should objectively judge our own behavior. That may be difficult, but the world might be a better place if we did it.
The danger, however, is to base our judgments on ignorance, superstition, prejudice, or poor evidence – although that’s common enough all through history. And it still happens today – even here in the country where it’s considered bad form to be “judgmental.”
An argument could be made that most of the horrors of human history came from actions inspired by ignorance, superstition, and prejudice. Oh, yes, and greed. During all this time, what happened to reason? Logic? Evidence? Facts?
Maybe the effort is too much work. Too threatening. Maybe it would force some of us to question beliefs we’ve always taken for granted.
Is behavior that has endured for a long time valuable or worth saving just because it has survived for so long? Wasn’t that one of the defenses of slavery? Of denying women the vote and equal rights? Isn’t that still the defense used to deny certain groups equal rights and protection under law? What are the facts here? Where are reason and logic?
As I travel around the world, I’m confronted with different types of behavior. Some of them have endured for decades, centuries, or longer, others are new. The pollution overwhelming many cities, ancient and new, is destroying the quality of life in those cities and killing people. This is not good. A judgment based on observation and knowledge. Many people in these cities don’t wear helmets on motorbikes or seatbelts in cars. This is dangerous: a judgment based on observation and statistics.
Today, a few people are richer than ever, while more people are poor and disadvantaged. Over both the short term and the long term, this is bad for both the majority and for the country as a whole. This doesn’t stop the minority from clinging to their advantage. Facts and logic are tossed out the window. A valid judgment?
In some societies, long-enduring social systems have kept certain groups at the bottom, depriving them of opportunity and forcing them to do menial, repellent jobs. Sometimes, individuals are humiliated and physically abused because of ancient traditions and beliefs. Should this continue, just because the society has always been this way? It’s reasonable to make a judgment about this based on observation, study, and history, yet there are those who say, “It’s not your culture, so you mustn’t judge.”
We act on our judgments every day, from shouting at the driver running the red light to writing an angry letter to the corrupt politician to cautioning our child about taking a toy that isn’t hers. Being judgmental is part of civilized life, as long as the judgments are based on observation, facts, reason, and logic.
Bruce Douglas Reeves, author of DELPHINE, winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Competition, published by Texas Review Press,
University Press Books-Berkeley (800-676-8722), Diesel Bookstore-Oakland, Payn's Stationery Store - Berkeley, and other stores, and Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, by order from your local bookstore, and as an Amazon Kindle book.