Moralizing and Judging

I wonder if any of us are truly aware of how often we moralize and judge not only ourselves but others during the course of a normal day. I am currently taking a free class online on moralities of everyday existence that is offered by Yale (yes, the Ivy League school– but you get no credits or grades for the class.) The first week of class reminded me just how careful we have to be to avoid moralizing and judging the events in our daily lives.

Let me give you an example from my daily life. I am a paramedic. Invariably, at some point during the course of any given day, a call comes in to respond to such and such an address for a patient with flu-like symptoms. A groan often accompanies this summons and it’s exacerbated when you get to the residence and find five apparently capable drivers and three cars parked in the driveway. “This,” we think to ourselves while in the patient’s presence and say aloud when the call is over, “is why our health care costs are so out of control! Anyone of those people could have taken that person to the hospital!”

What we DON’T know is that one of the driver’s has a suspended license for a DUI, one has no car insurance because she can’t afford it, one has three kids sleeping upstairs that are going to be getting up from their nap soon and two of them are also sick and don’t want anyone by mommy/daddy, one just took some cold medicine that makes her drowsy and the fifth’s car isn’t inspected or registered because he couldn’t afford to do it last month when it expired. (As an aside, I recently suffered from a bout with the flu and I have never been as sick as I was for that nine days and there were times when I wanted to call an ambulance to come take me to the hospital.)

How many times have you been standing in line and watched someone pay for steaks with food stamps and thought “How fair is that? I’m eating hamburger helper and you’re eating steaks on food stamps!” Of course, what we don’t know is that the steaks are for the man’s son, who has terminal cancer and this is to be the last meal they have as a family before he goes out of state for experimental treatments that still only give him a 2% chance of survival.

Or here’s one I hear often when someone sees a woman with lots of kids that are apparently very close in age. “Keep your legs closed so I don’t have to support another of your brats!” Of course, what we don’t know is that the woman has taken custody of her sisters kids (which were born in between her own kids) because her sister is fighting a drug addiction and is in rehab and the woman doesn’t want the kids to get stuck in the system.

But what about the smaller moral decisions and judgments we make every day? Are you eating meat? Do you know if the animal who sacrificed their life for your food was treated humanely during its existence? Does it matter?

Are you vegetarian or vegan? Are you eating all organic foods that were harvested by people who were paid a fair wage? What happens to all the migrant workers if everyone buys only foods that were harvested for a fair wage?

Did you flip someone off while driving down the road today because you got cut off or someone didn’t use his turn signal? Maybe you didn’t flip him off but called him a nasty name or even thought what a horrible driver he was. Would it change your mind about him if you knew he just found out his wife was taken to the hospital after a serious car accident and wasn’t expected to survive?

In the area I live in, we have had 22 people die of heroin overdoses in the last two weeks because the heroin is laced with fentanyl. I’ve seen stories about it posted on Facebook and local news websites. Comments range from “Good! One less addict to worry about!” to “And we’re supposed to care about these people why?”

Do you catch yourself judging how your siblings are raising their children and think that you could do a better job? Do you find yourself looking at the clerk in the store and thinking that he needs to find a better barber? Do you overhear your waitress talking about her wife and leave her a smaller tip because you don’t agree with the “gay lifestyle”? Do you see a stray cat running around your neighborhood and think “Someone else is probably feeding it…”? Do you think that the person who is talking in line behind you, who is obviously the opposite party affiliation than you, is a stupid moron for what he believes? Do you speak up when someone in the break room makes an off-color or racist or sexist or homophobic comment or joke? Do you constantly buy pre-packaged meals so you don’t have to cook despite the amount of plastic and cardboard that goes into making just one of those meals and is going to end up in our rapidly filling landfills? Are you more pleasant with someone you know who shares many of your beliefs than you are with someone who thinks your beliefs are a joke? Did you notice that many of these questions are judgmental and moralizing? Or do you think that only the “other side” (or, in other words, someone else besides you) does that kind of thing?

Perhaps some of the most subconscious moralizing and judging we do is with ourselves. How many times have we said about something we did, “That was stupid!” or “I’m such an idiot!” or “How could I be so naive?” How many times have we judged what we have done as “less than” what it should have been or even as a complete failure? How many times have we said that we “really screwed up” on that one? How many times have we belittled or diminished our contribution to the co-creative process of life? It is a habit we are taught young (“we’re all sinners worthy of death”, “there’s nothing we can do to get into God’s good graces and it’s only his mercy that allows us to live”, “we’re born with original sin on our souls”, etc.) often by religion and it’s a habit that is very difficult to break.

I’d be willing to bet that there are those who are saying “So what? As long as I don’t voice my thoughts or hurt someone else’s feelings with what I’m thinking, no harm done!”

But God and science tell us energy is neither created nor destroyed: it simply changes form! So your thoughts are energy that you’re putting out into the world and that energy, if it’s judgmental or moralizing, is helping to co-create the reality in which all of us live.

It takes being completely aware and in the moment at all times to catch yourself doing the moralizing and judging that the vast majority 0f us do without a second thought. Take the time before you think a thought or speak it aloud to ask “What would Love do?” or, even simpler for some, “Is this how I would want to be treated or thought of?”

Try, for one hour, to pay attention to every thought that comes into your head. See how many of them are truly judgmental or moralizing and figure out what you can replace that thought with. Sometimes a simple “Bless you” is more than enough.

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  • Susan Knights

    This is so timely. Last night I was at a presentation for Racial Justice in my church. A delightful lady had travelled around 100 miles to come and deliver the talk. During the talk we had an opportunity to share thinking about what we were hearing around minority groups. I was astounded to hear a significant level of defensiveness from my fellow Catholics when they were talking about migrants and travellers. I was even more astounded to hear my Priest’s comments on integration. The guest speaker was really brilliant at very politely asking us to look at the world from their eyes and not ours. She also had a wonderful way of encouraging to do this by stating that we never know when we could be in their position – one day we could be in a minority group and she asked us to think what that might feel like. And that is just so true. A truly fascinating evening and a great speaker. It certainly has given me a great deal to ponder – including the realisation that even though I think I don’t judge, i do. All I can do is ask forgiveness for those occasions when I have done this and pray for guidance to change my ways.

  • mewabe

    It has been my observation that some of the “judging” and “moralizing” you mention tend to originate, generally speaking of course, from uptight political conservatives. So-called liberals have, again generally speaking, more of a live and let live, easy going attitude, at least in Northern California where all the hippies migrated in the late 60’s.

    But there is no reason for anyone to beat himself or herself for having such constricting thoughts…rather, the question could be: “Why I am getting so bent out of shape about single mothers, or people on food stamps, or gays, or people whose hair or clothes or lifestyle or religion or ideology do not match mine?…ARE THEIR CHOICES REALLY AFFECTING ME?”

    Chances are, the answer will be that it does not affect us in any way. So the next question, on this quest for self knowledge, could be: “Why am I so miserable and unhappy, and so easily aggravated by nothing? Why do I become hostile towards others so quickly?”

    Chances are, the answer will be: “Because I make myself unhappy…because I hate my job or hate my life, or my relationship or marriage, or in laws, or neighbors, or my town or state…because I have made poor choices…because I do not even know what I want and what would make me happy…because I have done what I was told to do, went along with the program and the conditioning and it has gotten me nowhere…because I do not even know who I am…because I do not like who I have become and I am frustrated with myself…etc.”

    Behavior modification only touches the surface. If you seek real change, the answer is within, always. Always look for the cause behind the cause, and you will have In Sight.

  • taylor1967

    Dear Shelly Strauss,
    Thank you for your words, I really enjoyed reading what you had to say. Your writing is simple and elegant and has given me a lot of food for thought. You seem very insightful to me, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Take care.