This I Believe

Benjamin - Longmont, Colorado
Entered on May 3, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: integrity

I believe in being judgmental. I also believe that word has gotten a bad rap — I think it needn’t be so negative. Then again, I’m an English teacher, so I enjoy quibbling over the finer meanings of words.

I judge people all the time. I am constantly collecting new information about people and adapting my perception of them. Judgment is crucial to that process. Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, do this.

It’s also part of my job as an English teacher to judge people — namely my students. I’m always making judgments throughout the school day. Is he getting picked on? Why are you crying? Who is that kid, and why is she wandering the halls? Did the dog really eat your printer? I also judge my students more formally in assigning grades. On the good days I judge against pre-determined criteria — standards, rubrics. On the not-so-good days I rely on my gut. It’s usually pretty accurate, but a lot harder to explain when students question my judgment.

And question it they should. I believe in the right to judge and also to be judged. I believe in holding others accountable as much as I believe in them holding me accountable. Being judged unfairly can be hard. But being judged fairly can be even harder.

During my sophomore year in college a few members of the newspaper staff, exercising poor judgment, stayed up all night producing a fake newspaper as a spoof of a local rival. I was among them. We expected students at the other school to be outraged; we didn’t expect our own student body to be offended. With the gift of hindsight, I can now say our carelessness deserved to be judged harshly. That experience of being held accountable for my actions by friends and strangers alike has stuck with me. I learned the difference between tolerance and acceptance, the limits of friendship, and that no one is above reproach, especially me.

I think it’s human nature to judge, so whether it’s good or bad is irrelevant to me. We should strive to be flexible enough, however, to allow our judgments of others (and of ourselves) to be truly fluid; we get in trouble when we refuse to allow new information to change our judgments. If we judge others, but then give them a chance to change our minds, that says something about us as people. I’m excited when I realize a student has changed my perception of him or her for the better. You might say I live to be proven wrong.

Who are we kidding? Appearances do matter. But appearances can also change, and our judgments should change accordingly.