Judgments and Opinions

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Just because a thing is sometimes bad doesn’t mean it is always bad.

Being ‘judgmental,’ for instance. A friend of mine, who is a Buddhist, recently confessed to this ‘fault.’ When he sees certain types of people in the street, he forms a negative opinion of them and feels bad for being judgmental.

I’m not sure who he meant, but it was probably one of those super-loud show ponies who seem to be everywhere these days.

My friend seemed to think he’d be a much more virtuous and spiritual person if he had no reaction to such people. I chimed in at that point with ‘but you’re allowed to have an opinion.’

It bothers me if the idea of being enlightened means sticking a vacuous spiritual grin on your face and having no opinions about anything. I’m sorry, but if you have no opinions, then you have no personality and you’re a boring person. Or if you’re really so spiritually advanced that you’re beyond having any views, maybe you should just move on to a higher plane and let the rest of us get on with being human.

What is really behind the attempt to be non-judgmental? Is it always a fault?

When we make a mistake, a common reaction is to overcorrect. So, someone expresses an opinion of something, finds out they got it wrong, and realises they were unfairly judgmental on that occasion. They’re so mortified they say, ‘from now on I’m never going to have an opinion, in case I get it wrong again.’ They’re so afraid of being thought judgmental, or causing offence, they’re unwilling to say anything controversial.

The better response would be ‘I got it wrong this time and learned from it. Next time I’ll be more cautious, but that won’t stop me having an opinion.’

And by the way, part of the problem is everyone’s so easily offended nowadays. That’s another story. The trend of being easily offended began as an attempt to make people accountable for what they say, but it has turned into a way of intimidating people into not saying anything at all. Let’s not go there …

When it comes to having opinions, a related fallacy is the idea that ‘X is sometimes bad so X is always bad.’  So, a given person realises that being judgmental is sometimes not very nice. That’s true, of course. But the person, overreacts and says ‘I must never form judgments anymore; that might make me judgmental! So I’d better not have any more opinions.’ And that, of course, is silly.

We encounter many things in life: people, events, concepts, beliefs, and so on. About some of these, we have no opinion, either because we don’t know or care enough to form one. Yet we’re entitled to form views about things we do know or care about.

Naturally, in forming opinions we should try to be fair, informed, and generous to what we are perceiving. We should also try to be aware of our own biases – although these are not necessarily bad, so much as inevitable. It is better to call them our perspectives.

We can say: I’m entitled to form an opinion of something if I know enough to do so. This opinion is not permanent (perhaps that is what is meant by a judgment). It is a temporary view formed from the best available evidence, and if new evidence arises I may change my opinion. But I won’t apologise for having one.

Now, let’s return to those ‘super-loud show ponies’ my friend felt bad about judging. If I see one of them, I’ll think ‘poser’ every day of the week. Is that being judgmental?  No, it’s just my view on how people should behave.

People with an opinion contribute something to the discussion, no matter what the area. Take cricket, for example! The cricket commentator, Ian Chappell, has always got something to say, usually about the ethics or wisdom of what is taking place on the field. He might come across as a bit grumpy at times, but at least we know he cares.

If being spiritually enlightened means wearing a calm, placid expression and having no opinions, then leave me here in the dark. Or if it means loving everyone unconditionally, the task is too hard. If I ever reach the state where all I can do is fix a dopey spiritual grin on my face and love everyone, that’s the day I’ll be morphined out in a hospital bed about to depart this world.

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