Expressing an Opinion or Being Judgmental?
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
Chatting with a friend last week, the topic of being judgmental came up. She was unclear the difference between being judgmental and expressing an opinion. I’ll admit there is often some ambiguity between the two since many times when we are giving our opinions they are coming from a judgement. Compounding it is the fact that when you look up the meaning of opinion in the dictionary it says: a view or judgement formed about something. When you look up the meaning of judgment, it says: an opinion or conclusion. So how do we know when we are giving an opinion from when we are making a judgement?
There is a very fine line between the two states. Opinions are your view of the world based on the sum of your personal experiences, as well as, those around you, your likes and dislikes, what you’ve read, what you’ve seen. Everything that you have ever been exposed to in your life is filed in your brain and shapes your view of the world. Opinions are fluid and open to discussion. Therefore, as you experience more or receive more information, your opinions can evolve and change. It is important to note here, that opinions are not necessarily based on facts. Equally important to note is that facts change as time goes by. The world was once known to be flat; it is now known to be round.
Judgments are statements. They are opinions presented as facts with no room for discussion. You have decided that your opinion is the only truth and stand firm in it. Judgments are therefore definite and are very often tied to our core beliefs. This is where the danger of judgments come in. Since your opinions are formed from what you have been exposed to in your lifetime, they form from only one side of a coin in a world where there are almost no absolutes. Every single one of us will see the coin differently based on our own personal exposures in our lifetimes. When you start expressing opinions as statements of facts, with no room for the possibility that there is another side to that coin, you have stepped into the realm of being judgmental.
Let’s be clear here, we all make judgments. Making a judgement, is not inherently good or bad. When we make decisions, they are made on a judgement. We hear the expression that someone made a judgement call almost every day. Making a judgement is therefore part of our day to day lives. It is when we start using them as statements of right and wrong, or degrees of someone’s goodness or worthiness based on our own values then we get into hot water. For example:
We see a woman whose dress we deem to be too short, which is a judgement. It does not necessarily mean that she is inappropriately dressed. It could just mean that it is too short for us. When we start accessing the worthiness of her character based on a dress we would not wear, then we are being judgmental.
A couple who is married with no children are called selfish, which is a judgement. Maybe they can’t have children? Maybe they are trying and having difficulty? Maybe they have a plan for their life together and children are coming at a later date, when they feel more confident in their ability to provide? Maybe they have decided that their lifestyle is not one that will allow them to provide the stability that they believe a child needs? Assessing them based on our own beliefs about family life is being judgmental.
We see a man who is sitting in a bar drinking at 10am and we think it is too early for alcohol, that is a judgement. It means that for us, 10am is too early to be drinking alcohol. When we start thinking he is there because he has a drinking problem, then we are being judgmental. It could be that he is coming off shift and 10am is his “night time” or it could be his birthday and he is waiting for his friends to arrive for a day of celebration. Even if you knew the person and he really does have an addiction, it would be a good time to ask what judgments are you making about people who have addictions?
Ask yourself, what am I doing? Am I passing judgement on people and their behaviours? We need to be aware of where we are coming from since whether positive or negative, spoken or unspoken, those judgments will have an impact on our relationships not only with others, but with ourselves as well. Think about it, if we think that someone who is unmarried and have no children is living a selfish, meaningless life, how will that impact the way we enter into and manage our relationships? If we think that people who are overweight are greedy and lazy, how will that impact the way we feel about ourselves as our bodies change throughout our lifetime? By observing the judgments we hold for others, it will also inform us on how we live our own lives and our relationship with ourselves.
One final point about judgement vs opinion, with the rise of social media, we have found ourselves at the mercy of persons who feel compelled to express their opinions at any juncture under the guise of free speech, otherwise known as “keyboard warriors” or “trolls.” Many times the judgement will come wrapped up in “it’s my opinion and I am entitled to it.” Understand that it is not about you, the anonymity of social media has given them the freedom to express themselves in a way that they may not be able to in their real lives. Ask yourself, will this comment positively impact my life? If yes, then you can move forward with it, if not then say thank you for your feedback and move on with your life. This works in real life as well. The same is true for you as well. If at any point in time you feel the need to express an opinion from a place that it will make you feel better about yourself, then you are being judgmental and you need to stop and ask yourself, why do I feel need to say this? At that point it has become more about you than them. It is never okay to make yourself feel good by making someone else feel badly about themselves. And yes, that’s a judgment and I’m sticking to it…...