Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Defensive Judgment

Have you ever been judged for making a judgment you never actually made? I’m calling this the “defensive judgment” (I also liked “reversed judgment”) where you find that you are being judged for being judgmental about something you’ve actually made no judgment about at all.

An example…

In my office we have a “business casual” work attire and participate in “casual Fridays.” These two terms have wide interpretations (especially across generations and geographic regions) but we have made a deliberate choice not to put clear and strict definitions to them to allow each supervisor the flexibility to interpret those terms as appropriate for their department and the kinds of business they conduct and public they interface with.

Because I came from the corporate arena prior to entering the world of not-for-profits, my wardrobe leans much more to the “business” side of business casual than the casual side. Since you can never go wrong over-dressing (in this context) I just wear what I have. I think it would be silly to spend money to create a different wardrobe level when I have perfectly good clothes in my closet that I like and feel comfortable in. So I ware suits when slacks and a blouse would probably do fine and when it comes to “casual Fridays” I’m typically not wearing the jeans that everyone else is in, but I will tone-down from the business suit to a skirt and sweater – that is casual for me.

But lets be clear … if you roll your eyes or make snide remarks about the fact that I’m not in jeans, that’s not me judging you, that’s you judging me. The fact that I’m not wearing jeans on Friday is not a judgment of you because you are. It’s great that you feel comfortable coming to work in jeans on Friday (and that you have the freedom to do so) – why do you feel the need to judge me if I choose not to. Why are you assuming that a skirt and sweater are judging you? Are you felling silly yet?

While we’re at it …

If I don’t drink, it is not a judgment of you because you do – it’s just my choice.
If I eat meat, it is not a judgment on all vegetarians and vegans – it’s just my choice.
If I send my kids to public school, it is not a judgment on private schools or homeschooling - it's just my choice.
If I don’t have a tattoo, it is not a judgment of you because you do - it’s just my choice.
If I work outside the home, it is not a judgment of you because you don’t – it’s just my choice.
If I drive a gas-guzzling SUV, it is not a judgment on your Hybrid – it’s just my choice.
If I don’t smoke, swear, gamble … are you seeing a pattern here?

Is it really too much to ask that you give my choices the same deference you demand for yours and give me the benefit and opportunity, without assumptions, to respect you for your choices. I don’t walk in your shoes or live through your experiences, who in the world would I be to pass judgment for any of your choices? And the second part of that is “and who are you?”

I can’t help but wonder (just a little) about the person who is so self-absorbed that they think someone - as insignificant to their life as I surely am - is sitting back, plotting against them through my wardrobe. Just waiting for the chance to make a public mockery of them by wearing a skirt, or eating meat or not having a drink.


“Yes, I’d like a Margarita, please… oh wait, SHE’s having a drink? Well let me completely overhaul my entire lifestyle just so I can make her feel judged by my Sprite. That’ll show the light of Christ in me!”

If our choices don’t have a material impact on each other (and are not a conflict with our common Spiritual beliefs), I don’t see the value in even drawing attention to or defining them, much less judging each other for them. What’s the point? Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you didn’t feel some self-imposed pressure to live up to an imaginary standard you attribute to me that, in fact, doesn’t exist?

You know what’s the saddest part, I'm really not as passionate about a workplace comment about jeans as it seems, but something Pastor Stokes said in his Wednesday sermon last week got me thinking about it …

He was taking about when he preaches at other churches as a visiting Pastor that he respectfully and thoughtfully asks about things like, which version of the Bible would you like me to preach out of, what kind of attire is appropriate at your church. His inquiry is not a judgment on them because they don’t do it the “Fair Oaks” way, he’s being respectful of their choices as a church. Pastor remarked that occasionally they’ll even apologize in their request, “oh I’m so sorry Pastor Stokes, I know you’re used to a casual atmosphere, but we’re a suit and tie kind of congregation.” And Pastor Stokes said “don’t apologize, those are your choices. There’s nothing to apologize for.”

So here’s me, not apologizing. My choices are not an inherent judgment of your choices and I don’t want you to feel like you have to justify or apologize for yours any more than I care to justify or apologize for mine.


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