Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Build Your Own Personal Judgometer

I'll often use words that evoke emotion in others. I love words like stupid, ugly, tonnage, asshole, fat, evil, dumb, lazy, worthless and bastard. They can serve as the judgment equivalent of a Geiger Counter. In fact, with words like these and a little elbow grease you can create a judgometer.

Having your own judgometer is fun and useful. A judgometer is great for surfacing latent judgments. You can use a judgometer alone or with friends. To use your judgometer, simply invoke one of the above words (or a word of your choosing) and see how people respond. The degree of reaction to the word is directly proportional to the degree of judgment held by the person reacting.

One of my favorite judgometer words is stupid. It seems that the word stupid is highly charged for many of us sending our judgometers deep into the red.

The thing about stupid is that it's, well... a word. It means slow to learn or understand. As a word it can't really have any effect on you unless two criteria are satisfied.
  1. You believe the word accurately describes you, and
  2. You hold a judgment about the word
In order for something to register on the judgometer, it must satisfy both these criteria.

Judging Our Judgments
One of the fallacies that pervades discussions of the philosophy of happiness is that judging is bad. (Note, bad is another great judgometer word). Over and again, I'll hear people say, "If you practice the method, then you're not supposed to judge."

While this would be consistent with Christian philosophy, or at least Christian philosophy as Jesus taught it, it's not something inherent to the philosophy of happiness. Although dropping judgments is something that practitioners of the dialogue learn to do in order to better facilitate the exploration of beliefs by others, dropping judgments has no place in the philosophy per se.

Philosophically our goal is to be aware of our judgments and how they affect our thoughts and feelings, not to banish our judgments. In fact, if you look at some of Bruce Di Marsico's writings from the late 60's regarding the method, you'll notice that he talks about our judging our judgments as being one of the things that leads to unhappiness.

On Being an Asshole
Based on responses I've received regarding my statement 'just because you're loving and accepting of someone doesn't mean that he's not being an asshole', I take it that the word asshole is great judgometer.

Although I'm sure definitions vary, to me being an asshole simply means: acting in a manner that displays total disregard for anyone else often at the expense of others. Now, rather than saying, 'Hey look, so-and-so is acting in a manner that displays total disregard for anyone else often at the expense of others' each time I refer to someone doing that, I find it easier to say, 'Hey look, so-and-so is being an asshole.'

Why is this important?

Important is a Judgment
Before I explain why it's important, I'd like to point out that important is a judgment as is unimportant. Each time we make something important we're judging it as having greater significance, value and/or meaning than something less important. When we call things unimportant, we're judging them as having less significance, value and/or meaning.

Why is important important? Because important is a great judgometer word. However, unlike judgometer words such as stupid, ugly, lazy and asshole, important doesn't stand alone; it requires a companion word or concept. So, to use important with your judgometer, you'll need additional material.

If you're talking with someone who is enthusiastically explaining something she considers significant, meaningful and/or of great value, then proper application of the judgometer would involve dismissing what she's saying as unimportant.

If she responds simply by asking you 'why is it unimportant?' without any trace of emotion and without losing her enthusiasm, then you've got someone in the 'passion-with-a-loose-grip' zone. She's able to enthusiastically engage without hanging on to the outcome nor taking it personally. If not, then you know that you're talking with some who is hanging on to the outcome and taking it personally.

Denial or Acceptance
Let's get back to why it's important not to drop the word asshole when deciding to love and accept someone. Here's the tricky part that I think we've been circling over the past week or so.

Remember, being an asshole simply means acting in a manner that displays total disregard for anyone else often at the expense of others.

When I decide to love and accept someone who is being an asshole, it doesn't change the fact that he's being an asshole. It just means that I am not judging him for acting in a manner that displays total disregard for anyone else often at the expense of others. I see clearly in the full light of day how he's behaving and I love him.

When I decide to love and accept someone who is being an asshole, but I find it difficult to use the word asshole, it indicates that I am still holding onto judgments regarding his actions and manner. Since I'm maintaining my judgments about his being an asshole, in order to love him I have to deny that he's acting in a manner that displays total disregard for anyone else often at the expense of others.

Love based on denial isn't a sustainable strategy. In fact, it's a complete nonstarter. You never get to address the things that you judge in the person you love, because in order to love her you deny they're there.

Guilt vs. Guilty
I once worked with this guy who was absolutely amazing until he did something assholic or stupid. Because he held strong judgments about being an asshole or doing something stupid, he'd get to the point of denying that what he did ever happened. He'd simply reinvent the whole story with amazing powers of denial.

One time we gave presentations in a large team meeting that was recorded so that those who could not attend would be able to hear what transpired. Talking privately after the meeting, I pointed out that some of the things he said were "less than loving" (he's a strong advocate for loving people).

His initial response was that he hadn't in fact said what I'd indicated. So, having the audio recording, we played it back and listened. Upon hearing himself say verbatim what I'd suggested he'd said, his response was... well... um... it was to erase the recording and ensure that there were no copies lying around.

I heard one teacher often uses the phrase, "It's never to late to have had a great childhood."

I think this is a great phrase that is often misunderstood. It doesn't mean that we delete the recording, that we deny or block out or rewrite the facts. It actually involves seeing the facts of our childhood in full light with crystal clarity, and then rewriting our experience of them. It's not about changing what happened, it's about changing our judgments.

What Sets Off Your Judgometer?
One of the things that defines us is the set of words that send our judgometers into the red zone. The words are different for each of us; they tell us a lot about ourselves. Over the next day or two, I invite you to note the words that you react to. What do they tell you about yourself? Why are the words charged for you? How do those charges affect how you perceive yourself and interact with your world?

I also invite you to explore your past experiences and actions, especially those ones that you may not feel so great about. Are there skeletons in your closet that you're hoping no one will find? Subjects and experiences that you avoid? Perhaps it's time to drop the denial routine and start working through your judgments.

So everyone, it's time open up those closets, turn on the lights and fire up your judgometers!



  1. Hi Mark,

    I can absolutely see "asshole" as an "fact/observation" rather than a judgement, but at times I see myself put huge judgements on "observations" such as "Messy".
    - and my girlfriend uses "angry" as an extremely judgemental term.

    I will defently watch out for other loaded word

    Thanks for the input,


  2. lol Is this how we choose to judge one observation as judgement and the other simply an observation? I suggest to refer to any label that has the potential to be used by another as depreciatory is just as much a judgement as it is an observational judgement.

    I suggest what you are referring to is what i more clearly refer to as the quality of the judgement rather than attempting to call one judgement judgement and the other merely observational.

    It could be simply an observation for he utterer. however how do you avoid fuelling potentially confusing noise for another, one having absolutely little control over another's freedom to be confused, as I am, with this comical preoccupation with splitting hairs about observations?

    Are They not simply all observations, with potentially judgemental overtones over which we have little control?

    What could be an alternative? Accept the powerlessness, and perhaps attempt to keep it simpler, instead of confusing? What about that all judgements/observational labels are neutral, until one chooses to attach a charge? Is it not simply the quality of our observation, or judgement, charitable or not, simply evidence of how we 'play with ourselves?'

    Trustingly this stimulates deeper considerations..... bw

  3. BW, that's it or almost. The concept of judgmental words and non-judgmental words is pure fallacy. There are simply words that are emotionally charged and words that are not.

    Further, the charge has NOTHING to do with the word itself; it has to do with the person saying or hearing the word. I could speak pure gibberish (which I've been accused of routinely) and something I said might have an emotional charge for Joy. It's not the words; it's Joy!

    Next, the idea of that there are JUDGMENTS and there are ASSESSMENTS is also fallacial. It's not as though there's this clear line that distinguishes the two. There are just degrees of emotional charge that we attach to situations, words, beliefs, etc. These vary in each of us from moment to moment. There are probably times where we have absolutely no emotional charge (positive or negative), but I imagine that they are few and far between, you know, like just before conception and just after death.

    Even in the dialogue in which the facilitator is theoretically judgment free, facilitators are often taught to LOVE the person they're helping. The loving is essentially loading up on positive judgments, positive emotional charge.

    1. There's no such thing as judgmental words and non-judgmental words. It's all about the emotional charge the words inspire in us.
    2. There's no hard line distinguishing judgment and assessments. There's simply the continuum of emotional charge.
    3. What can be really useful is to not get distracted by the above, but instead to pay attention to how we're feeling in regard to a specific word, situation or belief.

    Forget about the judgment label and pay attention to how charged up your emotions are. I'm kind of inspired to talk to Jonathan about building a judgment chip. I'm sure that we could come up with a set of parameters that map relatively consistently to the continuum of physiological changes that occur when we judge. Maybe we could put it into a cap that you would have a nice LED screen on the front. A true judgometer.

    "This is fun!", he said with significantly positively charged emotion that could probably be measured physiologically.

  4. I just happened to be reading a book this morning by a physician where he measured a bunch of indicators (skin temperature, electrical impedance, muscle tension) on an actress before and after a she filmed a scene where she stabs another person to death. And by golly, just like you'd expect, the difference was huge. So I'm sure a judgometer could be created. Matter of fact, that's what lie detectors are, right?

  5. Teffy......I'm thinking i just had an orgasm lol let me check on that brb lol bw

  6. If not exactly what we want, a lie detector might be a great starting point. It would be nice to get it all down to something small enough and portable enough to be sold at the checkout counter of 7/11. You know, "I'd like two Slurpies and a Judgometer to go."

  7. Here's a quote I read this morning:
    “ Words, like eyeglasses, blur everything that they do not make more clear. ” - Joseph Joubert

  8. Sree, I love this quote. I used not to want to participate in a lot of verbal socializing around me, because it seemed to me the more people talked the more confused they seemed to get. Since I started hanging out with my darling husband, I started to understand that words can also create a clarifying and clear environment.
    Even though I am a mentor for which words spoken are an important part of the dialogue, there are many more ways that people convey what they think, and I am always looking for a consistency in what a person says and their actions.
    Thanks for posting this.


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