The Truth About Judgment
So often we are quick to judge others for their behaviours and actions. But what if our judgements are flawed or even destructive. Read about what I learnt from a chemistry teacher and the Eden TV show.
At my secondary school we had at least one assembly a week.
A weekly gathering of students, usually by year group.
A chance for a teacher to influence a mob of moody teenagers en masse.
Sounds a bit like a lamb to the slaughter.
I am pretty sure that some teachers hated it as much as we did.
They all had to take their turn though.
So over the five years of schooling I sat through hundreds of these talks.
But I can only remember one.
It was delivered by Mr. Moore, my chemistry teacher.
He was a moustached man who spoke fast and had little time for foolishness.
He was strict, direct and had no problems with speaking his mind.
Me being a playful and outspoken teen, he and I often clashed.
And yet his assembly to one hundred 15/16 year olds has stuck with me to this day.
I remember it because it was rare for a teacher to share such emotive, hard hitting and graphic information.
And it was even rarer to see a teacher cry. Especially when that teacher was Mr. Moore.
Of course this was in the days before PowerPoints or any kind of tech’ wizardry. So Mr. Moore stood in front of us, alone, holding a piece of paper.
It was a recent article from a newspaper.
Uncensored interviews from soldiers who were in combat units during the Vietnam war.
Most of them had been around 18 years old at the time.
“That’s only a few years older than you lot”, said Mr. Moore. “Imagine that. Being sent to an unknown land to fight and follow orders.”
I’d never know the hall so quiet, other than when we were being reprimanded.
He repeated “fight and follow orders” a number of times.
The article focused on one particular village invasion.
Mr Moore did not omit any of the story.
It was hard hitting.
These young men followed orders and, according to the interviews, they did more than kill that day.
I never find it easy to read or hear that kind of information.
Many of us were shocked.
Some were in tears.
Most of us made judgements about these young men and their actions.
I remember hearing a ripple of ‘bastards’ being mumbled around the hall.
That’s when Mr Moore shocked me.
“I bet some of you are thinking bastards” (teachers didn’t usually swear!) “Or maybe something like ‘How could they?’ You may even be taking the superior stand of ‘I’d never do anything like that’”
And that’s when I noticed he was crying.
This strict man. Our teacher was crying.
Just a few tears, but none the less I had never seen a teacher cry.
“But that’s the point isn’t it. How do we know if we would do something like that or not? After all they were just a few years older than you and they followed orders. They were possibly threatened if they didn’t follow orders.”
The hall was silent aside from a few sobs.
“I sat and read this article and was shocked. Not just at the actions of these men and their honesty. But that I couldn’t say hand on heart that I wouldn’t have done the same thing if I had been in their shoes. I couldn’t say truthfully that I would have gone against the orders. Said no and potentially put my own life at risk.
And that’s why I wanted to share it with you.
We can’t judge them as right or wrong because none of us know for sure what we would have done had we been there are that time with those pressures.”
I don’t think that I will ever forget his honesty. My perception of him changed.
He gave me a gift that day that I am still unwrapping.
The gift of putting myself in others shoes and doing my best to ‘get’ their actions and situations.
I’d love to say that I do this judgement-free but it is still a work-in-progress.
It was a recent reality TV show that reminded of Mr. Moore’s assembly and prompted me to share this with you.
Eden: Paradise Lost took 23 people to the highlands of Scotland to live for a year and ‘start again’. Instead, as the group developed, it became fractured. People started leaving and, in their own words, the experience became ‘dark and feral’. It was meant to be a year-long TV experiment, but the original show was pulled after 4 episodes. However, the community had no idea the programme had been cancelled and so continued self-filming their journey. After new interest emerged in the show, a second version of the whole year was created and aired over five nights. Some parts were not easy viewing. Bullying, fighting, sexism and general cruelty made it hard to watch at times. (Read a full account here)
It would have be an automatic reaction to point the finger. Criticising and judging people for inappropriate behaviour and actions. But I was reminded of my chemistry teacher.
And whilst they may not have been following orders as such, I remembered that I had not been in their situation.
Nor had I had their life experiences so how could I know what beliefs they had about themselves or the world?
And I cannot know how I would have behaved in that situation. Which of my beliefs or fears would have arisen? How would I have reacted?
I can look on.
I can watch their behaviours.
Notice what they trigger in me and ask myself, “where do I do that?“, “What can I learn about me from this?”
Anything outside of learning from the experience is always unhelpful.
Unhelpful because if I am making unconscious judgements, how are they guiding me and affecting how I interact with the world?
It would be like trying to drive a car to a destination of my choice and yet the pre programmed Sat Nav has taken over. I have no control!
When you are unaware of your judgments, then you have no control.
Whether you are being given information about a TV programme or an event from World History, judging others for what they did or did not do doesn’t change anything but us. Our judgements can skew our beliefs and make us fearful, angry or critical. But then we must remind ourselves that we weren’t there and we rarely have all the facts.
So next time before you launch into a barrage of judgments about yourself or others, think about my tearful chemistry teacher and his wise words:
“… none of us know for sure what we would have done had we been there.”