From birth we are primed to scan and judge everything we encounter. Alongside our judgments of others is profound concern about how we judge ourselves. Without a positive self-appraisal, we cannot feel comfortable in our own skin. Often, we submit to the terror of being "weighed and found wanting," along with the hope that what makes us blameworthy will be washed away, allowing us to return to a state of praise.

When we make a mistake, we may think, "Why was I so intolerant of others, and so eager to shame them? Did I not realize how a good person could sometimes behave badly?" When we suffer misfortune, we may realize that we blamed people who needed help as we need it now, and wonder why we were so sure they deserved blame.

In observing how much energy and time and emotion goes into our judgments, we also see how vulnerable our judgments are to simplification. How can we avoid the pitfalls of poor judgment? We can focus on the impact our judgments have on our own lives through a series of reflective questions:

Do my judgments work for me or against me?
Do I admire people who satisfy my needs, desires, values and interests? Or do I approach and attach myself to people who lead me down dark alleyways and dead ends, where I invest a great deal of emotional energy without yielding satisfaction, pleasure or meaning?

Are my judgments flexible and responsive?
Do I absorb new information about people? As I re-evaluate my views about others, do my emotions vacillate wildly, or can I respond negatively to some aspects of a person without derailing the attachments and positions in which I am emotionally invested? Is there an adaptive balance between emotional stability and emotional rigidity so that I can be loyal without being in denial? When my judgments are negative, are they nonetheless receptive to critical revision?

Are my judgments simplistic reflections of my own interests?
Do I distinguish between the magnitude of a fault and its impact on me? For example, am I able to see that a mistake that causes me great inconvenience or offense may arise from an inconsequential error on another's part?

Am I willing to engage with other people's judgments?
If I do so, am I willing to flex my own views? Can I catch the working of an inner resistance when I look at evidence for a position I do not hold, or evidence presented by someone I dislike? Can I challenge this resistance, keep it in check and follow the evidence in front of me? Can I hold in mind that a very different perspective might be justified?

Am I able to catch myself making unwarranted assumptions about someone based on his or her appearance, religion, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation?
Many of our responses contain unconscious associations. Some of these guide us to our deep values, and we can use them as a compass, directing us to fulfillment. Other unconscious associations, however, result in responses that are unfair to others, and to ourselves. Acknowledging them and testing them must be a daily effort. This work should feel positive—because the judgment meter's vulnerabilities should not make us distrustful of all our responses.

Can I trust my judgments even when they are steeped in emotion?
This is a crucial question that cannot be answered once and for all; it is a question we need to hold in our thoughts as we exercise our judgment meter, every day. It involves drawing on our abilities to distinguish emotions that illuminate from emotions that warp our environment.

A primary and lifelong task for each of us is to listen and learn from our judgment meter while also challenging and being willing to revise it. Constant testing and refinement of our judgments can be exhausting and humbling, but it is also rewarding and exciting, and the best way of living well among the people we love, the people we need and the people with whom we share our world.

Passing JudgmentReprinted from Passing Judgment: Praise and Blame in Everyday Life, by Terri Apter. Copyright © 2018 by Terri Apter. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Want more stories like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for one or more of OWN's free newsletters!


Next Story