Judgment, Discrimination, Exclusiveness, and Other Words We Live By
May 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Don’t judge me.”
“That law discriminates.”
“Your policy is exclusive.”
“Don’t be so narrow-minded.”
“Down with dogma!”
Certain words might trigger shame or apprehensive feelings when we see them in media reports or hear them in everyday conversation because they tend to reflect popular attitudes of political correctness, like the above statements. But are judgment, discrimination, exclusiveness, narrowness, dogma, and the like, inherently words of condemnation? I think such attitudes are not only justifiable much of the time, but absolutely necessary.
Everyone is judgmental. To judge is merely to weigh observations and form an opinion about something or someone. Life is a series of evaluations, and we continually judge facts, ideas and people based on what we think is right and wrong, true and false, or good and bad. Judgment is necessary to make determinations about anything ranging from guilt in a murder trial to what color tie would be best for today’s sales meeting. There is a right way to judge. We judge poorly when we fail to consider the facts about something or someone, including ourselves, before making a judgment.
Because everyone judges, everyone discriminates. Thinking humans discriminate whenever we make a distinction between various options and pursue one option to include or exclude, which pretty much describes every decision we make. When the mind makes a choice, it discriminates, or forms prejudice, against all other possible choices. We are discriminative in the choice of shoes to wear, what pizza to order, and which way to turn at an intersection, and what behaviors we want to require or prohibit—therefore all laws discriminate. We discriminate when dealing with people people: Which candidate do I hire? Which friend do I call? Which person do I marry? Who do I want to babysit my child? Discrimination is only wrong when we use the wrong criteria.
Because everyone discriminates, everyone is exclusive. Everyone holds to a particular set of beliefs about themselves and the world. Whatever religion we associate or disassociate with, whatever truths we accept or reject, whatever belief system we form by our own unique views, one thing is true of every human being: We have a particular worldview that we accept to the exclusion of all others. Exclusivity is only wrong when we exclude what is right and good and true (And its opposite, inclusivity, necessarily leaves someone out by definition).
Because everyone is exclusive, everyone is also narrow-minded. Since we as judgmental, discriminating, exclusive human beings think that a certain way is best, we naturally reject other ways. As G.K. Chesterton said of having a narrow view of the world: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Everyone believes that truth and only the truth is worth pursuing, and we are called to a very narrow view of what the truth is. Nobody believes that everything about a certain thing is true. Even if we question everything, we do so because we expect an absolute answer. Having a narrow mind is only wrong when the truth we narrowly embrace happens to be wrong.
Because everyone is narrow-minded, everyone arrives on something we might call dogma—a fixed set of rules or convictions we continually strive to follow. We have to be at least to an extent, dogmatic, defined as a statement of doctrine made as if authoritative and unchallengeable. While all ideas are open to challenge, we all make statements as if they are absolutely true, such as asserting that certain things are morally right or wrong. We don’t need to be arrogant in our dogmatism, however. Overbearing pride doesn’t have to enter into the rules we follow. In the case of religious dogma, the truths people defend and assert are purportedly not their own.
These principles are not automatically wrong. Obviously there are right ways and wrong ways to judge, to discriminate, to exclude people, to think narrowly, and to hold certain dogma, and in fact describe the necessary and rational ways we exercise free will choices every day. We can’t help but live this way. Keep in mind that whether it’s a picket sign or a news headline, words are used to frame arguments, so we can’t assume a common definition for such terms. It’s becoming increasingly important to ask what people mean, even when we think we know what they’ve said.