by Sally Kempton
Originally posted here in Yoga Journal
Judgment is like cholesterol: There’s a “good” kind and a “bad” kind. My friend Angela calls the good kind of judgment “discernment.” She calls the bad kind “the enemy of love.” “It doesn’t matter what situation I go into,” she once told me while suffering through a spell of the bad kind. “I can always find something wrong with it. If it’s not the weather, it’s people’s clothes or the way they’re talking. Whatever it is, I hate it.” You can’t win with your inner judge: It even judges itself for judging.
Sometimes that judgmental state feels like a sword driven right into the delicate fabric of your consciousness. Any feelings of love or relaxation or peace that you might have been nurturing are chopped to bits. Whether you’re judging others or yourself, it’s impossible to aim negative judgments in any direction without experiencing the sharp edges of judgment within yourself. Doubly so, in fact, since the faults we judge most harshly in other people usually turn out to be our own negativities projected outward.
Linda, a gifted and intelligent woman, has a rebellious streak that she’s been trying to suppress for years. When she was in graduate school, she was caught shoplifting and nearly lost her job as a teaching assistant. In later years, she liked to engage in sexual brinkmanship—intense flirtations with much younger men, many of them her students. Nowadays, she prides herself on her ability to spot hidden lawlessness in others. She once drove a colleague out of her teaching position by spreading rumors about the colleague’s affair with the father of a student. She’ll say, with a straight face, that her sense of purity is so powerful that it will always point out the impurity in the people around her. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that the “impurity” she sees in others mirrors behavior she rejects in herself.
Of course, I’m being judgmental here, and what’s more, taking a certain satisfaction in it. That’s the problem: Unleashing our inner judge can give us a quick hit of superiority. We feel smart when we can wield a skillful insight or pinpoint our parents’ mistakes or the pretenses of our friends, teachers, and bosses. Moreover, judgment fuels passions—a sense of injustice, sympathy for the underdog, the desire to right wrongs. It gets us off the couch and into action. For many of us, judgment and blame are a kind of emotional caffeine, a way of waking ourselves from passivity.