Wax On Jerk Off

Wax On Jerk Off

Photo of a white duck shaking off water

Or, the perils of judging people…

Seventeen years ago Jim McCarthy said “don’t flip the bozo bit“.

“By taking that lazy way out, you poison team interactions and cannot avail yourself of help from the “bozo” ever again.”

~ Jim McCarthy

Yet every day we see folks writing off other folks as “jerks”, “assholes”, “know-nothings”, “lamers” and a whole host of other uncomplimentary epithets.

And regularly we see folks opine that some others have “no talent”, “no ethics” or some other supposedly fundamental character flaw.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

~ Elie Wiesel

When we judge someone we are saying, in effect, “I am indifferent to you, who you are, what’s happened and happening in your life, what you care about, your needs.” When I see this happening, I feel profoundly despondent (and also, in a bind), as it fails to meet my need for mutual respect and meaningful connection.

“Judgment is one of the Crimes. We go on judging other people, and we do the same with ourselves. We go on judging our thoughts, our actions, what is good, what is bad, what should have been done, what should not have been done; and we are constantly creating conflict and duality.”

~ Osho

Marshall Rosenberg, found of Nonviolent Communication, writes about the spirituality at the heart of helping people recognise (and then meet) their needs.

Many have spoken of the need for love, rather than judgement. Reflecting, I suppose, the wide preponderance of the latter over the former.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

And the essential role of empathy.

“Don’t judge any man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.”

~ Native American Proverb

As I mentioned in a previous post “Respect for People“, we can regard judgement as a bright, flashing neon sign of unmet needs:

“[Our] judgements of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Some see love and judgement as being in implacable opposition:

“The more one judges, the less one loves.”

~ Honoré de Balzac

And much as the cause of our feelings always lies within us (other people may be a trigger of our emotions, but never the cause), judgement tells us much more about ourselves than about those we judge:

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.”

~ Wayne Dyer

Have we still learned so little from Deming (95% of people’s performance is a consequence of the system within which they’re working), the psychology of cognitive biases (e.g. the Fundamental attribution error), Kahneman (Ego depletion), etc.?

And even if it were true that some folks were less blessed with “gifts” than others, what benefits does it bring to continually grump through life in an unremittingly judgemental frame of mind?

How likely is it that judgment will bring ennoblement or insight? The stress it induces makes us tired, physically tired. We feel compelled to pronounce our judgments and to correct the errors of the world around us – an onerous, even distasteful task that drains our energy. Yet, ironically, we appear to cherish judgmentalism. We constantly choose to judge, and we find the idea of giving up judgment to threaten “who we are” (ironic self-judgmentalism, there). Why? Why is it that we want to continue with judging others, when the effect on ourselves (and them) can be so negative?

Aside: Katherine Kirk has spoken eloquently on the topic of equanimity.

Of course, there will be folks with undiscovered talents, and those with talents that don’t match their current role too well. To write them off as “useless” or worse, “worthless”, strike me as inhumane, and wasteful, in equal measure. Toyota has long had a more humane – and respectful – policy in this area. Called the Three Rs, their policy is to first

  • Retrain the individual (make sure they have the information necessary to do the work well), then if that doesn’t work out too well,
  • Redeploy them to another role, and only (finally and in extremis)
  • Release them from the company.

Toyota understands the investment they make in their people, moral as well as commercial. And the value – not least, to their business – of respect for the individual. Although maybe they haven’t managed (sic) a complete adoption of the precepts of nonviolence, just yet.

I recently tweeted several variations of a (nonviolent, non-judgmental) definition for “idiot”. The most-retweeted variant was:

 “Idiot”: Anyone who is just trying to meet their needs, in the best way they know how, where their way makes little or no sense to us.

How do you feel about judgmentalism? Is it part of what defines you? Do you see the violence inherent in the system?

– Bob

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
First Break All the Rules ~ Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
The Talent Code ~ Daniel Coyle
Bounce ~ Matthew Syed
Mindset: How you Can Fulfil Your Potential ~ Carol Dweck
Talent is Overrated ~ Geoff Colvin
Why Judging People Makes Us Unhappy ~ TinyBuddha.com article
Emotional Energy is More Real Thank You Might Think ~ Blog post at People-Triggers (cf Ego depletion)
Rule 7: Don’t Flip the Bozo Bit ~ Jim McCarthy (video)

14 comments
  1. Great post – had a lesson on this recently. Someone started recently in my group and acted like a bit of a “jerk” on the first day. Instead of just writing him off as such I thought “maybe it was 1st day nerves’, I’ll just wait and see how he behaves and judge him by his _current_ actions each day. Next day, he was still a bit “funny” but not as bad as first day. So, after 3-4 days he’s a totally different person! It _was_ first day nerves, and that was just how he expressed it, which may of seemed “jerk-like” to me. We finished the week with a beer at the pub and I found out that the companies environment is actually very alien to him and he’s a bit confused as to his expected role and behaviors. He’s actually a very funny, smart and a “moral” person – can’t ask for much more than that! I’m sure he’ll quickly re-calibrate him self to his new environment (I’ll certainly do everything I can to help him) and it’s going to be great working with him🙂

  2. I have only recently learned that it’s valuable to me to be, if not judgmental, at least discerning. It is occasionally beneficial to my mental state to distance myself from certain people, especially those who say cruel or negative things for reasons that I can’t understand. I also usually avoid bigots and hypocrites, because I’m not yet mature enough to find ways to cope with the differences in our world views that don’t make me angry or frustrated. Perhaps it’s a phase. I was completely non-judgemental for nearly 40 years. Now I’m a bit more critical of who I share my time and energy with, and in the future, I hope to be the kind of person who can get along with everyone again.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for sharing your reaction to this post, and to the whole idea of judging people.

      – Bob

      • I feel “human”. Fallible and imperfect. To feel otherwise is disingenuinuous?

      • How was your post of two years ago meeting your needs then? Have you still those same needs now?

        – Bob

      • Like almost all my blog posts, it served my need to express my observations, experiences, and my personal interpretation of them. I still have those needs.

        The only people who don’t have needs are dead – Unknown

  3. Thank you Bob, this is a beautiful post!

    In a previous role, as a manager, I spent much of my time being judgemental of those around me. At the time this felt uncomfortable and wrong to me but it was the norm and so, to my detriment, I joined in. After discovering systems thinking I began to view the world differently. Since then I have worked hard to avoid these conversations and help others see the futility in this behaviour.

    • Hi Chris,

      thanks for sharing your reaction to this post, and to the whole idea of judging people.

      – Bob

    • It’s gotta be pretty tough to be an unjudgmental manager. That’s effectively what they get paid for?

  4. I would like to share a story from my own life about this, it happened a long time ago and very much shaped my outlook on the “abilities” of people.

    I work in the software industry, and have always been considered to be a “smart” guy. Especially in the very small town I come from.

    My youngest brother is very much the oposite of me. Not only is he not a technological guy, but he has never even graduated from high school. At the time of this story he had so much trouble with his eduication that he wasn’t even able to read without following with his finger and sounding out some words. He was about 16 at the time.

    So, by any conventional measures that exist, he was considered to be a “stupid” guy. As a matter of fact, I recall feeling this was the case at the time.

    Until one day I was hanging out with him in our basement and watching him work on his dirt bike. He was able with no training of any kind to take that extreemly complex machine apart and put it back together. And I thought to myself, I would need YEARS of study to learn how to do that. That was the moment I realised that everyone has something to contribute, but some are stuck being asked to contribute in way that are not well matched to the way they think and work.

    After that moment my basic philosophy about work has been “Every person in an organisation is equally as important as everyone else. Even if we had the greatest CEO in the world, if the janitor didn’t take out the trash, we would all get sick and not be able to produce.”

    Some would argue that anyone can do the janitors job and that diminishes its value, but I disgree, I know while technically I am capable opf doing the janitors job I would not be able to do it very long before I was frustrated and quit.

    Thanks for listening

  5. Pawel said:

    Hey Bob,

    great article, thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    In your opinion, would it be ok to say: It’s not wise to judge people, but it’s ok to judge their actions? Or, are all forms of judgement harmful? If so, if all judgement is harmful how is one suppose to know which actions and behaviours are worth repeating and sustaining?

    Thank you in advance.

  6. kopstar said:

    A good article. I’d love to know how much money organisations spend on developing their employees weaknesses before writing them off as incapable. I’ve been an advocate of strengths based leadership for years as not only does it improve performance but self worth.

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