A few months ago, I was at a work dinner chatting with a colleague, also a Mormon (a previous bishop), and we were talking about some colleagues whose behavior we didn’t approve.   Some of our co-workers from another department (probably sales) were drinking too much at a work event which resulted in some rather unprofessional behavior.  I was rolling my eyes, and my friend was clucking his tongue like an old Relief Society dowager.  He confessed to me that he feels he is really judgmental sometimes, and he wondered why he is like that.  While I don’t normally consider myself to be a judgmental person in general, clearly we were both feeling judgmental of the same behavior in this case. 

Unlike my friend, usually when we ask why people are judmental, we’re talking about “other” people.  Judging others happens when we observe something – a behavior, something they have said, a style of dress – and then we infer the reason for that; we make a conclusion about the other person based on that observation.  The conclusion may or may not be accurate, but of course, we assume that it is. 

We all go through life making judgments.  If we didn’t make judgments we would never get anything done.  Judging is a learned behavior; we learn the unwritten rules of the society we live in.  Babies don’t judge, but they also don’t have good judgment.  Without judging we could not avoid danger, we couldn’t decide who was trustworthy and who was not, and we could never make any worthwhile decisions.  Judging only becomes a problem when we judge people inaccurately, excessively or as a means to feel better about ourselves.

No matter who we’re talking about, others or ourselves, there are a few simple reasons people are judgmental and what we can do to counteract each:

  1. Jealousy / envy / resentmentWhom are we judging?  Usually someone whose choices differ from ours.  We secretly wish we could do the thing the other person is doing.  We blame them for taking the easy way out or for not “towing the line” like we have to.  We resent their freedom to do the thing we wish we could do.
    • To counteractOwn your own choices.  Don’t be a victim.
  2. Fear of rejection / feeling threatened.  Sometimes this might be a fear of others rejecting us for being the “odd one.”  Sometimes we are insecure about our own standing and judge others to distance ourselves from those we deem to be a risky attachment, someone we don’t want to be associated with.  The latter is probably what was happening in the situation with my work colleague; we felt that those colleagues were a poor reflection on us by association.  We wanted it to be clear that we were behaving professionally, even though we were sitting in the same (increasingly loud, attention-getting) area.
    • To counteractThe coolest kids are the ones who don’t care what anyone else thinks.  Have enough self-esteem to be confident without tearing others down.  Keep your sense of humor, and don’t take yourself so seriously.  The truth will out.  People who matter will judge you on your own merits, not due to your associations with others.  And you may influence people to make better choices if you are more open and accepting.
  3. Misjudgments / hyperbole.  Sometimes we draw the wrong conclusions about someone based on their behavior because we are unfamiliar with different customs, mannerisms or beliefs that drive behaviors.  We misjudge based on that misunderstanding.  We assign incorrect motives based on a lack of familiarity.
    • To counteractBroaden your horizons, get to know more people.  Question your assumptions about what is acceptable behavior. As the teacher says in The Sure Thing:  “Talk to people whose clothes aren’t color-coordinated.”  Learn to recognize your own cultural biases.

Are Mormons more prone to being judgmental?  Maybe for the following reasons:  Mormon lifestyle choices are more restrictive than average (although muslims have us beat hands down – don’t like garments?  Try a hijab or burkha.  We’re lightweights, I tell ya.), Mormons are often the socially odd ones so we are no strangers to feeling awkward, insecure and rejected (no coffee, no tea, no drinking, no premarital sex, no sleeveless blouses – try coming up with an adult, professional explanation for some of these that doesn’t make you sound like a religious fanatic or like you are judging others for things the majority of society doesn’t think twice about), and lastly, some Mormons are very isolated, even deliberately limiting their social circle to those who are like-minded and like-valued (living in total isolation certainly implies you are judging others as “untouchable.”  You don’t want to catch their unrighteous cooties).

And yet, we preach charity.  We preach reaching out to the 1, not just chillin’ with the other 99 sheep.  We preach dining with publicans and sinners, harlots and vagrants.  (That work dinner I mentioned included all of those!)  At least in theory we preach these things.

One more reason people are judgmental that I haven’t listed is that gossip and judging others binds us together socially.  When our own biases and stereotypes are confirmed by someone else, we feel we are part of the “in” group; someone understands us and has validated our perspective.  While this feels good at the time, it’s also limiting to have your own opinions reinforced, especially if your judgments are inaccurate or unnecessary.

When have you felt judged by someone else?  When have you been judgmental?  Do you want to be less judgmental?  Do you feel church makes you more judgmental or more charitable?  Discuss.