Not judging

May 1, 2013

Not being judgmental is not about making an assessment and then suspending it through an act of will but about having no interest in making an assessment in the first place.

My apologies for not knowing whom to credit for this point.

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5 Responses to “Not judging”

  1. Napoleon Williams Says:

    Diana Moses,
    I read tonight your comment to Maureen Dowd’s May 1, 2013 column in which you stated that your 6th grade son, African American, had written an essay giving his assessment of a character in a novel who had accepted a person who refused to accept him.

    As an African American who grew up in a racially segregated South, I found the need to make assessments of this nature to be a common and frequent one. I therefore wanted to give you my take on it.

    It seemed to me that such assessments are often made at a variety of levels. The different levels result from the following circumstances:

    1. recognizing that in many instances, it is not possible to be in a position to know personally the person, or persons, rejecting you;

    2. finding that the number of people engaged in such rejections, or suspected of doing so, is too numerous for spending adequate time or energy to make proper assessments without being distracted from fulfilling other developmental needs;

    3. finding that it is relatively easy and simple to act civilly and respectfully towards people acting badly without always rendering judgments on their character, and that this can be done without sacrificing the need to address other pressing interests;

    4. discovering that it isn’t always necessary to make assessments of this kind, and that at times it is better, and wiser, to postpone them or not do them;

    5. making sure that such assessments do not drown one in negativity emanating from others, or to have one’s character traits or habits molded by negativity, or have emotional or psychological responses formed by the negativity;

    6. realizing that why people behave and think as they do is often complex and shaped by individual circumstances, making judgments of assessments of this kind very problematical and uneven;

    7. acting to avoid having one’s development overly shaped by other’s racial concerns and biases; and

    8. experiencing love, affection, friendship, and respect from others to such a degree that assessing people rejecting you becomes less significant, urgent, critical, or central.

    The issue is quite complex. Not everyone responds at these levels. Clearly, many respond in opposite ways.
    Best,
    Napoleon Williams

    • Diana Moses Says:

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s helpful to me see it laid out so well.

      One more anecdote. The funeral we had for my husband/Jonas’s dad was intentionally small (the memorial service was much larger). When people who had not been invited showed up for the funeral and decided to attend the lunch afterwards, too, and that became an issue for others in attendance, my son (who had cried throughout the funeral) remarked to his brother and me while we were driving to the restaurant, “They came because they cared about Dad, not for a free lunch.” I thought his presence of mind and generosity of spirit was remarkable under the circumstances. He was about 15 at the time. (Of course, he disappeared after the lunch, and I, and even his girlfriend, had no idea where he was for hours — so he was very much “a teenager,” as well as an “old soul,” too.)

      • Napoleon Says:

        Diana, thanks for your nice, informative response.

        Children differ substantially in the degree to which they associate one event with another, assign cause and effect, seek or give explanations, share inner thoughts and emotions with parents, or have mothers with whom sharing is commonplace.

        They also differ in having mothers who engage them in discussing novels and other books, helping them to learn how to write and edit essays, talking about thoughts behind words they express in the essay, sharing private grief openly, and in feeling at ease giving others the benefit of the doubt for behavior which might otherwise be suspect.

        Yet, for all this, how children associate one thing with another can be rather surprising. Here, as a case in point is an experience I had.

        About 2, or 3, decades ago, I invited a friend/acquaintance, who was a psychiatrist, and her bright 7 year old son to my apartment here in NYC for a simple brunch. Both were Jewish. Here, it is important to know that the son liked me and always spent a lot of time with me whenever I was around them.

        As they entered the apartment, the mother saw some pictures on the mantle and, looking at one of them, asked who the people were in the picture with me. I said they were my grandmother and sister. The son approached the mantle and asked his mother if he could view the pictures. She said he had to ask my permission. He promptly asked, and I said “Of course”.

        Looking at the very same picture, he asked his mother who the people were in the picture with Napoleon. She answered: “That’s Napoleon’s sister and his grandmother”. He then exclaimed “But mother, they are black”.

        The mother then said “Napoleon is black too, isn’t he?” (I was the same color as my sister and grandmother). He then said very slowly “Yes”.

        Both the mother and I were grateful for the opportunity to witness this in real time and in full visibility. I realized I had also seen an interesting example of the steering function a mother’s guidance plays in helping her child confront association issues.
        Best,
        Napoleon

      • Diana Moses Says:

        I’m not sure why the following recollection comes to me as I read your comment, or even that I’ve properly understood it, but here’s the recollection anyway.

        When I was in college and thinking about applying to law school, a friend of mine, with whom I had roomed for a couple of years, was thinking about applying to law school, too. So she had been receiving materials in the mail, and one day we were in her room, I think, and she says, “Diana, here, why don’t you take that brochure — it sounds like a program you’d be interested in and it provides some sort of scholarship.” So I take it and start reading it, and I can’t remember the exact details, but at some point I realize that to be eligible, you have to be African American, and I point out to Sonia, who is African American, that I can’t use it since I’m not, and she looks at me as if doing a doubletake, and says, “Oh. Yeah. I forgot.”

      • Napoleon Says:

        Diana,
        Yes, I can understand the cause for the recollection. Closeness to someone can blind us to the obvious. When it occurs to children, it seems to be part of the learning process and how kids break one pattern of thinking and move on to adopting another. When it occurs to teenagers and adults, I think it is often the result of forgetfulness, overlooking,distraction, ignoring, or determination.
        Napoleon


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