Recently, I was speaking with a woman who was having trouble explaining to her son why judging people was immoral. She explained that her son believed that, since he felt he led a moral and just life, it gave him the right to pass judgment on those who did not meet his standards. She went on to say that, no matter how she attempted to explain it, he did not budge from his stance. She asked me if her son was right and, if not, why was it unethical to judge others. Further, she wanted to know how she could explain it to her son.
I assured her she was right in her position — it is unethical to pass judgment on others, unless one is appointed — as, say, a judge — to do so. Judges study law and the ethics thereof for years, but even they sometimes find it a tedious task, indeed, to come to a conclusion on a case. And, remember: judges preside over only one case at a time, and that is for only a single circumstance in someone’s life — a crime, say, or a dispute. A judge may privately consider other aspects of the accused and how they live their life, but, still, the public focus of their judgment of a case is but a fraction of the defendant’s life. Ergo, even judges do not, or at least should not, pass judgment on individuals based on past, irrelevant circumstances. They should stick to the merits of the case and the evidence presented. It’s a simple proposition: We cannot understand a situation without all the facts, and without said facts, we don’t have the right to pass judgment on another.
The old saying goes “Walk a mile in my shoes.” This may seem antiquated, yet it still holds strong relevance in the judging argument. It is easy for one to see a disheveled homeless person, for instance, and come to the conclusion that this individual is just lazy, most likely a criminal and a drug user, someone who just leeches off of society and contributes nothing. A burden. A blight. Get a job, ya bum! This, of course, is a fallacy, one of generalization. Without knowing the individual’s circumstances, especially the ones leading to their displacement, it is all but impossible to know for certain that judgment is accurate. Nevertheless, many pass this judgment daily. That homeless person could be a vet with PTSD or a schizophrenic who refuses aid — unaware, really, of the seriousness of his situation. The point is you don’t know. How could you? Perhaps this person has even attempted to seek help but is lost in the system or on a lengthy waiting list. Maybe he’s not even homeless — only eccentric.
There are simply too many variables involved in each case — and all cases are unique unto themselves. To think that one has a grasp on every possible situation that could have arisen in displacing this individual is an asinine position at best. When someone passes judgment, they feel above the person — judging takes a level of arrogance that borders on egomania and apathy. One should take a long look in the mirror and be at peace with their own past before they lower the boom of judgment.
A greater question may be: Why bother? Why concern oneself with a fleeting, passing moment? To me, it seems that little bit of cognitive effort could be helpful elsewhere. Wouldn’t it be burdensome to use one’s precious time to think negatively of others who bear no relevance to your personal life? Granted, in the case of the displaced individual, one could feel it is impacting one’s life in the case of tax dollars, etc. Nonetheless, if one researched the facts on how one’s tax dollars were spent, one might find larger issues to be concerned about. Use the energy spent on judging others to instead judge the system that keeps many of those displaced and marginalized. What keeps people focused on judging individuals, anyway? Such a focus could be seen as obsessive and — because it is such a small piece of the overall picture — a form of tunnel vision.
One could make a strong argument that judging individuals is a primal response from an earlier time in evolution. Yes, it may have served a survival purpose and made enormous sense a few million years ago, however, it has become unnecessary today. There are larger issues at play in our modern world that demand the kind of attention that one wastes on judging others. There are even some theories that suggest there will always be a homeless demographic, regardless of even the most fruitful of endeavors to eradicate it. But even so, that is no reason to not focus our best and brightest brainpower on solutions instead of judgment..
So, is judgment simply deeply rooted in us all? Is it ingrained in our thought processes? Was it so necessary to evolution that it has become part of our natural response? If so, why do we recognize it as unethical in many circles? Are we ever going to evolve to a point that it is no longer necessary for us to waste our thought processes? Are we starting to see the larger picture that encompasses the overall problem instead of narrowly focusing on individual circumstances that, even if addressed and rectified, would not solve the problem as a whole? Are we evolving further still by seeing that our cognitive capacities can be effective if we apply them beyond mere circumstantial situations? Is our empathy surpassing our apathy?
Until one fully understands the circumstances behind another’s position, then how can one even begin to pass judgment on another? If one doesn’t understand the variables involved in why another is in a certain position, then how can one form a definite conclusion? Basically, until one walks a mile in another’s shoes, then how can one even consider that he has the right to judge another? Are there not too many variables to allow one to grasp another’s plight without all the information necessary to understand?
How does one know when one has gathered all the information required for one to reach such a conclusion?
What gives one the right to pass judgment at all? The truth may be that no one has the right to do so. One cannot understand another’s position until one has experienced what the other has gone through. One can try to understand — which is the very essence of empathy. Walk a mile in my shoes. Everyone fights their own personal battles daily and, keeping such in mind, we should be kind to one another in all our dealings. The bottom can drop out at anytime from under any one of us. In that light, we should show compassion before cruelty and understanding before judgment. Even the best of us can experience hardship, temptation, addiction, abuse, and any other circumstance that others find off-putting or immoral. All that is required is tolerance, not universal agreement.
Practicing tolerance and empathy will show us that passing judgment on another is immoral and unethical. No one can relate to or understand all the variables in another’s situation.