Judging Others ... and Oneself

By JOHN M. IMPERIALE | Nov 14, 2018

To call someone “judgmental” is quite a criticism. The word itself might seem merely an expression that one likes, or feels the need, or feels qualified, to pass judgment on people and things. However, the fact is “judgmental” as a character trait implies a “tendency to judge harshly.”

There is nothing fair about a judgmental person. It is interesting, though, and quite the moral trap, that noting someone else’s “judgmental” inclinations is, in fact … judgmental!

It is a savvy person, or perhaps just a person with an extremely well-defined sense of their own perfection, who can urge an overly judgmental individual to modify their ways without admitting to even a little bit of hypocrisy.

Yet judge we must. But whom? And by what criteria?

You will not have much success in getting things done if you cannot honestly and effectively judge a whole slew of individuals, from plumbers and handymen to doctors, lawyers and the local pizza maker. And we are entitled to our own system of determination, based on our priorities. There is little controversy, and absolutely no right or wrong, in how we assign, evaluate, judge and act on our judgments in all of our professional dealings.

Judging individuals on a personal basis is another thing completely.

“You have to have a tolerance for the failures of individuals because all of us have them” was the advice Admiral John McCain Sr. gave to his son, a future American hero.

So judging other people, the way they choose to live their life, their loves and passions, their religion, and, yes, their politics, is not for me. Or it should not be. Too often I fail and criticize when perhaps open-mindedness or simple acceptance would be the more honorable course.

Acceptance of people, with all their faults and strengths, all their mistakes, and sins of omission and commission, makes us better human beings.

Think of the people we deal with in life, some by choice, some by accident, some by necessity. Friends are people with whom we choose to spend time. They are interesting to us, or fun, or great conversationalists. They share our likes and passions, or they are just good people who make us feel better for knowing them. The one thing we don’t do with or to friends: judge them.

We do have to deal with, and cast judgment on, politicians. That is one of the important roles we play as citizens. To not do so is to ignore a basic responsibility of living in a democratic society. You might want to ignore all politicians, or cast them all under the same umbrella of distaste, but that would be a mistake.

They are not all the same; therefore, they require examination and evaluation.

The midterms are over. Our collective societal decisions are in. Perhaps you are happy with the results. Perhaps not. One thing is certain: The process was awful.

How do you judge when each side says that the other side is evil, wants to destroy America, is corrupt, favors criminals or hates immigrants and on and on? The vitriol that was spewed by our so-called leaders was despicable and has undeniably contributed to the divisiveness and the violence in our country. Bombs and shootings. Both sides. It has to stop. It will. When we vote them all out.

Lest we all despair, consider that in one very high-level campaign, one candidate called the other a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal and a tyrant. That candidate, in turn, called his opponent a weakling, an atheist, a libertine and a coward. That was Adams and Jefferson in the 1800 presidential campaign.

So negative ads and character assassination are time-honored traditions in political campaigns. Seldom, though, until now, have they led to such widespread violence.

We have two more years before the next federal elections when we will once again choose our leaders. That gives us two years to do something Americans have become extremely lax in doing: judging elected officials by their own words and deeds.

America will be a better place if we become more critical in judging our politicians and less so in judging our fellow citizens, regardless of their political positions.

Today is a good day for all of us, starting with me, to do better.

Forget New Year’s resolutions; they are made in the haste of the holiday season when all anyone cares about is eating and drinking less and exercising more – next year.

Today we should resolve to call out politicians of every persuasion whenever they sow fear and anger and paranoia for their own benefit. We should never again support any politician of any party who engages in blatantly false negative advertising. We certainly should not abide politicians who call for harm to any individual or group, or allow their supporters to do so. I personally will judge them as harshly as I can, with all my might, especially my mighty pen and my mightier vote.

But I will not judge my fellow citizens, not the peaceful ones. Not the ones who genuinely disagree with me. Those folks, I will listen to and hope that they listen to me.

We will talk, debate, agree, disagree, fight for our positions, and respect each other. That’s my plan.

Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living. We all need to look at ourselves and decide: Just how have I lived my life? How am I living my life, right now? How have I treated others?

I wonder if I have offended good, decent people with my writings by discounting the deep and careful consideration that they have put into forming their own opinions. That was certainly never my intention.

But I am passionate about my beliefs. Still, I can’t get a letter in The SandPaper earlier this year by Frances Hopkins O’Neill out of my mind. Ms. O’Neill wrote that “liberals and conservatives are both necessary for a vibrant, modern and solvent nation.” I have written hundreds of op-ed columns, virtually all of them preaching compromise in public policy, but I have never said it so simply and perfectly as Ms. O’Neill.

And now I wonder if by calling for “middle-of-the-road” sensibilities I have not dismissed, or even disparaged, the well-thought-out and firmly held beliefs of people on the extremes.

I certainly regret writing, on more than one occasion, that we should ignore those on the far-left and the far-right. Ignoring others, I realize, is, well, ignorant. Compromise happens when we listen to all sides.

I understand that writing about politics makes one prone to vilifying those with whom you disagree. That is never my intention. But do I need to be more careful in the future? Yes. The one exception we all can and should make is toward politicians. Sorry, they are not above personal scrutiny. Politicians should be subject to our judgment. Our fellow citizens should not.

My final thought is from Benjamin Franklin: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain, and most fools do.”

John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars can be reached at

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