In our cultural lexicon, the expression “judging” has taken on an undoubtedly negative connotation. It’s considered gauche to judge other peoples’ choices in clothing, career, or romantic partner. The judging ban has naturally bled into the PF-blogging world. Just as it would violate social norms to judge the way a parent is raising her child, it’s equally unacceptable to judge the way a person spends her money.
Judge (verb): To form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.
But I’m starting to wonder if our collective attitude towards passing judgement just isn’t quite right. I think that we all judge others all the time. Most of the time, it happens so fast we don’t even realize we’re doing it. A woman passes by us on the street and we’re immediately evaluating her hairstyle, clothing choices, and the volume of the conversation she’s having on her cell phone; when she’s gone, we’re back to trying to remember what we’re supposed to be picking up at the grocery store. The judgement passes through our minds in an instant, and just as quickly, it’s gone.
Not only do I think that judging others and the choices they make is natural and involuntary, I sort of think it’s good. If the woman on the street is wearing a coat that I judge as hideous, that helps me clarify what I think is beautiful. If I judge her volume as being too high, I’m more cognizant of my personal volume level the next time I’m in the presence of others. By judging what others do, say, wear, and believe, we learn about ourselves and our environment.
I honestly think that most of the learning that I’ve done about personal finance since entering the blogging world has come from passing judgement on the choices that other PF bloggers are making when it comes to their money – because they were all doing good things, like building emergency funds, paying off debt, and saving for retirement, I was able to really see how bad my choices were. I judged their decision to stay home on Friday night to save money or start cooking for themselves instead of ordering takeout and deemed these to be good decisions, so I started doing them myself. Through my judgements, I was able to figure out which financial advice I would follow and which I wouldn’t. In other words, I was able to decide how I would “act” financially by evaluating the actions of others.
Which is not to say that being hostile and hyper-critical towards others and their choices is a good thing, either. Just because we pass judgement doesn’t mean we have to share it, unless we’re directly asked for our opinions. I just think that it’s silly to try to avoid judging. Judging is part of learning, and, since I’m a teacher (and a basically rational human being), I think learning is good.
Sometimes when we feel that others are starting to get a little too opinionated, especially when we think that their knowledge of the subject matter is limited, we say “stop judging” or “you’re being really judgmental.” In these situations, instead of saying “stop judging,” I’m going to start saying “start empathizing.” In other words, start trying to understand me and my circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to like me or my choices or do the same things that I do – it just means that I did whatever I did for my own reasons and before sharing uninformed opinions, maybe you should have some more information.
But feel free to judge me. It’s good for you.