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We all need to learn to suspend judgment

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

As I approached the team-building exercise at the St Mary’s Children’s Home last week, all I could consider was the importance of the term and principle called suspending judgment. It is an element—a virtue, even—so necessary for good interpersonal relationships as for good marriages, child rearing and any other human situation of relationship building.

For my own wellbeing, growth and maturity and as a deliberate action to improve my empathy for others, I have been practicing suspending judgment. The benefits are amazing.

When I see a situation, I try to take it in the moment and use only the current and available values to inform my treatment of the people involved. If I do not do that I may make assumptions, without merit, about the people involved or the situation itself. Then I can walk away from that situation contented that I have a proper assessment, which I really do not have.

And in the culture that surrounds me, the next time I engage that situation, say in a conversation with others, in pure “Trini” conduct, you may well hear me speak as an expert on the situation/subject and with confidence too, enough to convince others that I know the facts; I am well informed.

Every now and then though, as with old habits, I still find myself defaulting to being too quick (and definitely out of place) to judge situations and people. I’m usually guilt-pricked because I have come to realise how often rushing to judgment served me nothing good.

Simply defined, suspending judgment speaks to withholding an opinion until there is sufficient information.

And, I am realising that it is still possible to rush to unfair judgments even with the appropriate amount of information. It’s a human erring, I find too, that it is related to my own or a person’s self-esteem.

Quite often rushing to judgment has more to do with a ones own shortcomings. We are socialised to be better or at least to pretend to be better than the other person. We are taught to mostly look at others and make judgment calls without much consideration for our own position. That unhealthy desire to be better is the impetus for judgment and gossip, also.

My mother—bless her sleeping soul—was the queen of adages. It was her quickest way to deliver her messages and warnings to us when she had a lesson to give or a point to make.

“Monkey can’t see he own tail” she would say as a way to tell you that your problems are as much as, or even worse that the other person you are criticising. She was usually right and if you took to her lesson and begin looking at or for your own “tail”; and if you were sufficiently honest or simply brave enough, you would begin to look at your own shortcomings and hopefully that could bring some humility to your judgmental heart, mouth, and spirit.

We as a people, are given to very strong opinions on things we do not really know. How often have you heard people pronounce on matters using hearsay as their best reference? I have heard some loud-mouthed arguments in my time from people I know to be uneducated on the point but speaking with shocking authority.

Very often too, we use myths and misunderstanding to cast judgment on people. I teach that very often when I am trying to give people a perspective on why we should not be too quick to judge people’s conduct/behaviour/situation, and especially be brazen enough to diagnose others with illnesses of which they/we know nothing.

Judging others promotes misunderstanding but also supports the bigotry to which we have grown accustomed. We are a people very quick to diagnose others and pronounce on them. We are so unafraid to make judgments of others but if we understand anything about the consequences of rushing to judgment we can become better people and so promote better communities - in the home, village, workplace or nation. 

Steve Pavlina speaks about suspending judgement and puts it like this in his blog: “Whenever I write about certain topics, especially those that seem contrary to mainstream conditioning, some people voice very strong opinions. They communicate their thoughts with a high degree of certainty, as if adopting the posture of an expert.

“However, upon further inspection, it becomes readily apparent that most of these people have little or no direct experience upon which to base their opinions. Their knowledge of such subjects can hardly be classified as knowledge at all, since it’s derived largely from non-primary sources like media conditioning, third-party rumours, and supposition.” That is so common in our community. That elixir of ignorance and coupled confidence and deep (without basis) conviction make for a society without compassion, without empathy, without grace and graciousness in the affairs of others. It signifies to me a depth of ignorance about living in this world. It exposes the lack of mindfulness in which we live—not dealing appropriately with the moment in the moment but rather, using our injured self and broken experiences to rush to the judgment of others.

CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (UWI). Write to:


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