“Who are you to judge me?”
It’s a question that isn’t really a question. No one ever asks it so much as hurls it as a defense to shut down dialogue—which is exactly why I’ll use it to start this conversation, and launch this blog.
The problem with invoking some let-he-who-casts-the-first-stone nonsense to silence someone is that it assumes none of us has the right to judge. The reality, however, is not that we’re too judgmental. It’s that we’re not judgmental enough.
So I’m throwing the first stone. I hope you don’t bruise easily.
For starters, tell a mother she’s raising little Johnny well. “Thank you,” she’ll reply, beaming with pride. Point out that she’s neglecting her son, and she’ll shoot a menacing glare not seen since Satan possessed poor Marlena. “Don’t you dare tell me how to raise my child! DON’T JUDGE ME!”
What she really means is, “Don’t judge me—unless you’re judging me positively.” Girlfriend, you can’t have it both ways.
Sure, there’s the maxim instructing what you’re (not) supposed to do if you’ve got nothing nice to say—and it’s a good rule for most etiquette matters. Want to use the salad fork instead of the dinner fork? Who cares? (Well, some people care. But they shouldn’t, certainly not in the way that we’re talking about here.) It’s one thing to violate a custom—I’ll cut into my Lean Cuisine with your $357 steak knife if I feel like it, thank you—but quite another to act in ways that impact others. Now we’re talking ethics.
When behavior falls under an ethical domain, it’s not just OK but obligatory for you to judge, negatively or otherwise. In fact, all of us already do that, only we keep our thoughts to ourselves. So the issue isn’t so much judging but judging publicly.
For the good of society, we needn’t be shy about praising and condemning others for their ethical infractions. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. No, you’re not perfect. And that’s OK. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to try to right wrongs. (It’s not as if Mama T is some saint, anyway.) Likewise, you’re allowed to express viewpoints despite not having walked a mile in my Payless pleather shoes.
When some black people use race to delegitimize opinions held by whites or when some women exploit gender to repudiate men for anti-choice stances (for the record, I’m not anti- or pro-choice; I’m pro-abortion because I hate children), or…well, you get it…they’re playing cards from a bad deck. I’m a gay, white, Jew who can’t possibly know exactly what it’s like to be a straight, black, Christian/Muslim, but that hardly invalidates my analysis of our President. Nor do I have to have slept in the barracks of Treblinka to see that the camp’s lack of room service and air-conditioning, among other atrocities, were ethical horrors.
Ultimately, none of us knows precisely what it’s like to be someone else, but we can—and should—empathize. Race, gender, sexual orientation,
religion, height, weight, and other impertinent traits do not inherently preclude us from forming opinions based on facts and good reasoning.
So who am I to judge?
I’m someone who has studied, taken courses, and read about philosophy and ethics for years. But that doesn’t necessarily qualify me any more than, oh, I don’t know, watching reruns of Mr. Belvedere might disqualify you. That’s because we are all capable of contemplating ethical issues and conundrums. And we ought to be doing it more. I hope you’ll not only continue reading this blog but share your opinions too.
Everyone should be judging everyone.