Responding: When People Call You Judgmental

How do you respond when people call you judgmental?

I first ask, “What do you mean by that?” I want to discover how the person understands his or her own use of the term “judgmental.” I also want to know what they found to be a “judgmental” statement on my behalf.

In the logic course I teach at Houston Baptist University, our text is broken up into the three acts of the mind: understanding, judgment and reasoning. Notice the second act of the mind, judgment. A judgment is when we put two concepts in relation to one another. Typically a judgment is a declarative sentence. For example, “The professor’s 10:30 a.m. logic class is the class with the highest grade average of all the professor’s classes.” This declarative sentence has told the reader something about the professor’s 10:30 a.m. logic class. A judgment has been made in this statement. Does that make the author of the statement a judgmental person? No.

While a person may find my above example tedious, if not out right boring, it has immense value in today’s marketplace of ideas. Human beings are the kind of things that make judgments. We do it all the time. A judgment happens whenever we make a declarative statement. So in some sense, we are actually all judgmental people (which relates to one of the definitions of “judgmental”). Making judgments does not equal being judgmental…even when discussing a hot topic issue.

Rather, the quality of being judgmental, in the derogatory sense, is defined as “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view,” or “tending to judge people too quickly and critically.”[1] Many times we feel a person is judgmental when they don’t show concern for others before expressing their own point of view. We also see a person as judgmental when that person gives criticism that is inappropriately harsh for the circumstances. However, if a person has a point-of-view on morality that is different from someone else’s point-of-view, that fact alone does not make him or her automatically “judgmental.” Christians are hearing much more of this kind of accusation arising in our cultural environment. We are being told that we are judgmental for holding to our views based in Christian theology.

Again, holding to a differing point-of-view from someone else, and expressing that view, doesn’t make a person judgmental in the deragotory sense. It does make them a reasoning person who is engaging in the second act of the mind: judgment. The term judgmental needs to be clarified in our conversations with others for the sake of getting to the truth.

After asking “What do you mean that I am being judgmental?” I would proceed with a grounding question such as, “Why do you believe my view is judgmental?” or “How do you know that my view is judgmental?” We want to demonstrate that simply making a judgment by holding to a point-of-view is not the same thing as harboring a judgmental attitude. By labeling everyone as judgmental with whom you do not agree, you rob yourself of thoughtfully investigating both sides—or all sides—of a potential issue.

Let’s help other people, as well as ourselves, in this matter of judgment, which is so important on our path towards discovering the truth about the universe in which we live!

[1]Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/judgmental