Good Judgement, Bad Judgement

There are several definitions of the word, judgement:

  1. A decision of a court or judge.
  2. A misfortune viewed as a divine punishment.
  3. The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.
  4. An opinion or conclusion often about a person or circumstance.

I showed terrifically good judgement when I read the fine print on a timeshare contract and discovered that the annual maintenance fees were sky high and could be increased with little notice… and I backed out of the deal.

I showed tremendously bad judgement when I lifted a piece of furniture and knew immediately it was heavier than I should lift myself, but because the holidays were approaching and I was in a hurry, I did it anyway … and spent most of that Christmas vacation on the couch with spasms in my lower back.

Good judgement is important when making decisions and “coming to sensible conclusions.” But making judgements and coming to “opinions or conclusions” about other people based on small amounts of information (especially second- or even third-hand information) can stunt our learning, limit our options and opportunities and often rob us of potentially rich relationships and experiences.

This year I’ve had the good fortune to spend time on six different occasions with people who I thought I knew fairly well, at least professionally. Five of them are well known in the dental consulting industry and one was a cousin whom I had not spent any significant time with since we were kids. In each case, Tom and I were invited to spend a day or two in their homes where we experienced life on their terms and through their lens.

We woke up to their coffee and their style of breakfast. At dinner, we broke bread in their way… eating outside on paper plates, or on a deck with incredible sunset views, or at a table set with china and crystal. Sometimes they said grace, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes we sat around a fancy fireplace or a rustic firepit or a homemade bonfire. We shared fine wines, drank aged whiskey, and sipped hot tea. Sometimes we helped with the dishes and sometimes we were shooed off to bed.

We enjoyed guided tours of their hometowns complete with personal narrations of historical treasures, funny mishaps, and special memories. Inside their homes, we learned about their lives through photos of family and friends. We delighted in the variety of personal expression in their choices of art, furniture, and memorabilia.

But most importantly, we learned their stories: Where they were from, what and who they value, their spiritual, political, and professional viewpoints, what shaped them, what they fear, what they dreamed of and what they regretted. And through it all, I learned a very important lesson about judgement.

I had entered every single one of these six visits with my own story about who these folks were. I had formed a judgement about them based on some limited previous interactions, social media posts, and what others had told me about them and/or their experiences with them, and too often through third-hand information about what they had heard others say about them.

Maybe because I had six of these “home visits” this year, I found it impossible to ignore how distorted or completely wrong my judgements had been. I repeatedly learned this year that when you know someone’s story, understand their journey, step into their private world and peel back the layers to see life through their lens… you experience them in a profoundly different way. And when relationships deepen, you move into a whole new level of friendship.

Mister Rogers once said that his favorite quote was this one by Andrew Stanton: “Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” I think it might become one of my favorites too.

This week consider the judgements and opinions you’ve come to hold about others. What if you spent a couple of days in their home, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and looking at life through their unique lens? Would you understand them better? Would you feel differently about them? Would you come to a better educated and perhaps more accurate conclusion? What if they spent time with you in your environment and got to know your story better? Would it improve your relationship or at least smooth out the rough edges?

This week consider this quote from the book The 9 Cardinal Building Blocks by Assegid Habtewold, “When we generalize and judge people quickly without taking ample time, we’ve chosen a shortcut. It’s superficial of us, and a lack of wisdom.”

Let’s not choose the shortcut. Instead, as Walt Whitman asks, let us “Be curious, not judgmental.”

Here’s some other helpful quotes on judgement:

“The self-righteous scream judgements against others to hide
the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.”
~John Mark Green

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

“If we had no faults of our own, we should not take
so much pleasure in noticing those in others and judging
their lives as either black and white, good or bad.
We all live our lives in shades of gray.”
~Shannon L. Alder

“Never judge anyone shortly because every saint
has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
~Oscar Wilde