We’ve been led to believe that making judgments is a bad thing. Pat Allen (2005) in her book entitled Art is a Spiritual Path offers a new way to look at things. Allen runs an art program in her US studio. Artists undertake a two-part process. Part one is creation. Part two is what she calls witnessing.
Each artist discusses their creation and its process. The challenge and the rule is “don’t verbalize.” No questions or criticism are allowed. Not even compliments or signs of approval and encouragement are allowed. Both criticism and compliments can “be a form of violation” that impacts “their own internal wisdom and guidance.”
Allen believes “we all make judgments all the time; if we are mindful, we notice them, let them drift away, and then move on to the next thought.” She’s discovered “every judgment I have about another person tells me something about myself — what I require or what I am resisting.”
So too in real life. We all make judgments on everything all the time. It’s so human a response that it’s become an unconscious process. From judging superficial things like our favourite news anchor’s new hairdo to biggies like our doctor’s skill level, we all do it. We all have voiced opinions or passed judgments on the interest rate paid on savings accounts, the price of fuel, the suitability of our kid’s boyfriend or girlfriend, the attentiveness of our spouse, the drinking habits of a relative, the farming practices of a neighbour, the intelligence quotient of the boss, the relevance of Sunday’s sermon and so on and so on.
We all do it. And anyone who says otherwise just isn’t being very forthright. But, hey that’s just my opinion.
The decision is whether or not we choose to express these judgments (either positive or negative) or keep them to ourselves. If we share them, the question of intention and motive enters the debate. Do we share with those we truly love and care about? Do we share to hurt? Do we share to make ourselves look better, smarter? Do we share to save someone grief and heartache? Do we share to affirm actions we approve of?
My own challenge is to better identify those open to an honest give and take of opinion as distinguished from those who aren’t open. Some individuals lead lives of example, others of warning. I can learn from both types. The only way I know is by asking questions, sharing ideas, and debating issues.
Could either you or I get through even one day of not verbalizing the hundreds of judgments we make? The world would likely fall silent. It would be an interesting experiment, from where I sit.
Allen, P.B. (2005). Art Is a Spiritual Path. Shambhala Publications.
* Reprinted with permission