What’s Wrong With Judgment?

What’s Wrong With Judgment?


Hands up all those on whom the (intentional) irony of the above title is not lost?


Most folks are habituated to being judgmental, without ever realising it. And most often blind to the effect this is having on themselves, on their well-being and on the well-being of those around them. Maybe an increased awareness of the habit might offer some scope for breaking out of the pattern and finding more joy in work and life.


This is bad. That is good. She is smart. He is cunning. That ceiling is a hideous shade of green. “Moralistic” judgments. We make such judgments a thousand times a day. Most often without even really being aware we are doing it. Judgments of others. Judgments of things. Judgments of ourselves. Negative judgments. Positive judgements.

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”

~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

I find some irony in this quotation – the implicit judgmentalism makes me smile and wince in equal measure.


“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

If we accept this frame, then remaining blind to our own judgmentalism means we also remain blind to our own (unmet) needs. But if we can begin to become aware of ourselves doing it – being judgmental – then we have a tool we can use to start identifying and articulating our needs.

“I’m all for judgments. I don’t think we could survive very long without them. We judge which foods will give us what our bodies need. We judge which actions are going to get our needs met. But I differentiate between life-serving judgments, which are about meeting our needs, and moralistic judgments that imply rightness or wrongness.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg


Nonviolent Communication, through the words of its creator, Marshall Rosenberg, invites us to consider the effects flowing more or less inevitably from our habituation to judgmentalism.

“Judgment is just a recipe for suffering: start with our dissatisfaction over how a person happens to be and mix in our desire for them to be otherwise. To make that suffering nice and rich, be sure the desire clings tightly to the dissatisfaction!”

We are all, of course, victims of thousands of years of time-bound societal conditioning, wherein judgment is seen as natural, and even constructive. Society believes profoundly in the related Myth of Redemptive Violence, too.

“When we judge others we contribute to violence.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Research has indicated that judgmentalism is linked to raised negative affect (a.k.a. feeling “down”, or sadness of mood).

“Affect has been shown to alter a person’s ability to perform different types of tasks. Positive affect enhances creative thinking and novel problem-solving, but also increases susceptibility to distraction (thereby causing an inability to stay focused). Negative affect is believed to enhance focus, but hinder creative problem-solving.”

So, finding fault with judgement – being judgmental about it – seems…discongruent.

I’m not going to get all judgmental about judgmentalism (wink). But might we choose to consider the effects that our typical habit of judgmentalism can bring?

In essence this post is, like some of my others, a plea for a little-more self-awareness, a little more attention to our own needs – and those of others – and a reminder to myself for continued practice of same.

“Rather than educating people to be conscious of their needs, we teach them to become addicted to ineffective strategies for meeting them.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Judgment is also a sure-fire way of blocking empathy and understanding:

“One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.”

~ Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing

Would you be willing to monitor yourself for moralistic judgements, just for a minute, an hour or a day? I’d love to hear what you discover.

– Bob

  1. I don’t get it. Your message went right over my head – whoosh. Was this post intended to be about what a *world* without judgment would look like, and whether it would be worth it? If not, then sorry. My bad.

  2. Discernment is a form of judgment—yet it is essential to discern (is this food good to eat? would it be wise to trust this person?) We make discernment decisions all day long—it’s a bit like prioritization, we often need to choose A over B. The kind of judgment I think you are talking about is really condemnation. Re MR’s quote ““When we judge others we contribute to violence.” When we assess others we don’t necessarily contribute to violence, it’s only when our assessment results in a negative, or condemning conclusion that this occurs. So it’s not really judgement we need to be wary of, but only a very specific kind of judgment, i.e. that which raises ourselves up at the cost of putting another down.

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. I fundamentally disagree with your comment. I now need to understand why that is so.

      – Bob

      • This post is talking about *moralistic* judgements. I agree that what you call “discernment” does not fall within moralistic judgement. But please think about the (violent) implications of even “positive” moralistic judgements. Marshall Rosenberg’s books offer a far more cogent explanation of the cause-effect link (between moralistic judgements and violence) than I have space for here.

        – Bob

  3. Self awareness is gold. You are wise to emphasize.

    And judgment, while often necessary and good, is all too often automatic and problematic. You are wise to ask for our reflection!

    “Outside, beyond right and wrong, there is a huge field. I will meet you there.” — – Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-73) My exploration of this very topic, jumping off of this quote, here: http://johnponders.com/2013/01/07/outside-beyond/

  4. Bob,

    > But please think about the (violent) implications of even “positive” moralistic judgements.

    I hear what you are saying, and I agree. Judging another as “good” can be as damaging as judging one as “bad”. I also think in both cases the judgement is (perhaps subtly) about raising oneself up. In other words, the judgement is more about the person judging than about the person being judged. I make myself feel better when I evaluate you as worthy in some way, perhaps even more so than when I put you down.

    My wife and I avoid language that indicates our daughter is good or bad, right or wrong, clever or not clever. This is easy, because she is six months old, and clearly not motivated by right and wrong. It becomes more difficult when dealing with peers, and all the expectations we have. Perhaps before catching ourselves in judgement we first need to catch ourselves in our expectations. I heard once (and agree) that expectations are future resentments. The more we expect of someone the more we are likely to be disappointed (and thus judge) when that person doesn’t live up to those expectations. The book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” offers some good insights into the negative aspects of praise. I haven’t read Rosenberg, but it sounds as if these authors walk a similar path.

  5. Francisco said:

    Beyond the economical value, a jewel is recognized by its sentimental recognition.
    This article has both qualities.
    Thanks, Bob

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