Humans are obsessed with looking over each others’ shoulders, no matter what they’re doing. They want to snoop at the contents of plates, cast an eyebrow askance at parents, comment on how other people drive, suggest that people should get different careers — there’s always something to criticise and something to complain about when looking at something else. We are an extremely judgy species, and what’s obvious after millions of years of human evolution is that judgement doesn’t work, so why are we still doing it?
People who judge are often quick to defend their actions with the notion that they are ‘just helping.’ Thus, for example, the woman who sniffs around the plate of a fat person and says she should take smaller helpings isn’t casting aspersions on fatness, just suggesting that she’d be healthier and happier if she ate less. The judging there goes unsaid, the elephant in the room: I don’t like that you are fat, I am judging you for it, I have decided that I know what makes you fat, ergo, I am going to provide helpful suggestions on how to unfat yourself.
I see the same thing when I run into people I’ve known since my schooldays, the raised eyebrow and the sneer-laden ‘you’re still here?’ I sort of don’t know how to respond to them, because obviously the observation they’re making is not exactly Earth-shattering nor particularly astute. If I wasn’t here, I’d be somewhere else, and you wouldn’t see me. Of course, what they mean is that I still live here, and they find this abhorrent and unacceptable — after all, they left (or they’re adults who had ‘high hopes for [me]’) and they can’t believe I would just throw my life away like this.
These judgments come with a sense of personal offense and repulsion. There’s a belief that of course everyone would want to be just like everyone else, and those who aren’t interested in bowing to the status quo (don’t bow, my friends!) are dangerous. The way to correct that is through judging and shaming them — let’s judge people for driving too quickly (or slowly), let’s judge people for not eating what we think they should, let’s judge people for where they live, let’s judge people for who they date, let’s judge people for the careers they choose, let’s judge people and judge them and judge them.
The desire to make people hurt with our voiced judgements is painfully obvious, even if people refuse to acknowledge it. The stated point is to intervene to save people from themselves but the real goal is to drive a knife in — to make it clear that we are superior to lesser beings and that perhaps we can beat their aberrant behaviour out of them with our supremely helpful commentary. These attitudes surround even the most superficial and rough of human interactions — evolutionarily, we’re a species that snaps to a judgment as quickly as possible, within a few minutes of encountering another person, classifying and ranking.
Judgement culture is, frankly, boring, and it’s an everpresent part of our lives. It becomes the foundation of public awareness campaigns and hierarchical structures and the very way people communicate about what is going on around them. Some people may engage in it more than others, but no one is immune — certainly I am not immune, and I frequently cringe at the words that come out of my mouth. Why? What’s the point? What am I accomplishing by trashing something someone enjoys? Is it really that important to make an acerbic comment about a choice someone else is making when that comment wasn’t solicited? Why do I have to act offended when people push back? What do I gain by being ‘right’ about inconsequential things?
But I become particularly irked, monumentally so, when someone pretends to be ‘nonjudgemental’ and acts as though everything she does is perfectly lovely and, to put it crudely, as though her shit don’t stink when she’s just as judgmental as the rest of us. In California, there is particularly the brand of hippie-dippy, crunchy, granola kind of person that does yoga and White People Buddhism(TM) and that sort of thing, and those people, despite their claims of being at one with the world and Thich Nhat Hanh quotes about forgiveness and Dali Lama quotes about us owing kindness to each other, despite all these things, they are the most judgmental, nasty people on the face of this Earth. Other people are up front about it, but these people try to sneak it in the back way.
They’re the ones who do things like calling people who aren’t vegetarian/vegan ‘murderers’ or circulating images of cute animals on social media and saying ‘this’ll change carnivores’ minds!’ or, more irritating still, subjecting people to violent images of inhumane conditions at farms and slaughterhouses on the grounds of converting them. They’re the ones who make comments about how everyone should eat kale and lentils and whole grains, the ones who make comments about the way the people around them live, with little to no empathy or respect for people who cannot or do not live like them. For them, it’s all about that sweet spot of moral superiority, the convincement that everything they do is perfect and everyone should be like them.
I can’t help but think that it must be exhausting to be so judgmental all the time — if I feel like a horrible person every time I do it, I’d be a bitter, fatigued, miserable person if I spent that much time peering over other people’s shoulders and telling them what to do, who to be, how to live.
Image: Justice with a swagger, Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr