Do you ever ponder the difference between judgment vs. discernment?
I often talk to my clients about being less judgmental. I should know…
I have always been very outspoken, even for a teenager in Italy in the 90’s. And after smoothing that out to just 20% of what it used to be, I can still sometimes be a little too direct for California 😀
So I am writing this post about judgment vs. discernment as someone who struggled with and thought a lot about this topic. At first, I was very resistant to the whole not-being-judgmental thing because I confused being judgmental with having an opinion or having a preference. And sometimes when I talk to a client about not being judgmental, they too hear me say that they should not have an opinion, or that they should be OK with everything.
But that’s not the case at all.
What helped me find some clarity was distinguishing between judgment vs. discernment.
Let me explain. But first, please note that I have somewhat made these definitions up, in order to point to two different ways of thinking and experiencing life.
As I am defining it here, judgment is outward focused: it is about what other people do, say, or think.
Discernment, on the other hand, is your ability to know for yourself what is right and wrong, what you want or not, what works for you or doesn’t, what you do or not do. It’s about you.
Here’s a simple example.
Let’s say you like meditation: it works for you, you devote a considerable amount of time to it, you even feel that you are a much better person because of it, or maybe you see it as something that could improve everyone’s life. That’s discernment: you know what works for you.
Judgment, on the other hand, is when you spend your time thinking that other people are less enlightened, or somehow lacking because they do not meditate. You only interact with meditators, you say things like “non-meditators have lower vibrations,” you see yourself as better than the friends you don’t like anymore.
Judgment has a yucky quality to it, it is outward focused, it sucks your energy. To those who disagree with you, you can easily sound like an a**hole.
Discernment feels grounding, centering, even attractive. We respect people who speak and act in alignment with their being. We appreciate it when they express their truth without attacking us for thinking differently. We find it possible to listen.
At this point you might be wondering: what if you think something is good for others too? Is that judgmental? Should you not say something? What if you want to bring about change in the world?
I am glad you asked!
To get back to our example, you could share about your meditation practice, or teach it, or invite people to join you. But there is a huge difference between sharing something out of love or self-expression vs. judging those who do not share your views and thinking they either join you or they are wrong. People - consciously or unconsciously - feel this difference in your communication.
Each one of us has their own innate Wisdom, and the capacity to rest in their wellbeing. When you are in judgment instead of discernment, you basically believe (often unconsciously) that you have Wisdom while others lack it. This attitude can have consequences from mildly annoying to catastrophic.
Being in judgment does not feel good, does not bring forth good feelings in others, and it often creates resistance. This is why the more people debate and argue a topic trying to “win,” the worse the conflict gets. The more one side is righteous and dehumanizes the other side, the more people get insecure and resist. The more the cycle continues, the more the conflict escalates. Keep this up long enough and violence can ensue.
When you are in discernment, on the contrary, you do not need to prove you are right. You share from your Wisdom and you also listen from your Wisdom. You recognize others have different experiences and that they too have Wisdom. You can agree to disagree, change your mind, walk away, co create new possibilities, change another person's views, or continue your work to change people’s minds, but in a way that is grounded in dignity, humanity, and love.
This, by the way, is at the core of Gandhi’s Satyagraha, or non-violence, which is all about bringing about societal change from a deep place of individual and collective Wisdom.
So yes, have opinions, know what is right for you, get involved.
Be discerning. Don’t judge.
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