Judgement vs. Discernment

One of the easiest areas to falter in is judgement. The word discernment, in my opinion, is very much underused. Many people don’t even know it’s meaning. Discernment is something that is developed, along with maturity, integrity, virtue, character, self control, and things that make you a solid leader. If you don’t possess it, you will likely judge instead….meaning when things happen you will gravitate towards a critical edge.

The chart below will give you some idea of the differences between the two.

We may believe that people’s overall worthiness as human beings is tied to their prowess in various activities. But, for reasons we will get into shortly, this need not be the case: we can value everyone as being equally worthy even as we recognize differences in their abilities. To understand how this is possible, let us first introduce the definition of judgmental.

A judgmental person is precisely the kind to go beyond “discerning differences” in people’s abilities to making inferences about their overall worthiness. To a judgmental person, a bad singer is inferior not just on the dimension of singing, but is inferior on the more fundamental dimension of being human as well.

At first, it may seem that a discerning person would have no choice but to be judgmental. However, that is not true, and to see why, consider what we know about emotional intelligence, and about what it takes to be truly successful.

If everyone is equally gifted one way or the other, why are some people more successful in life than others? Why do some people master a domain while others flounder at anything they do?

There can be two reasons for this. First, most of us never get to realize what our specific intelligence or “God-given” talent is. This is partly because we pay too much attention to what others (parents, teachers, and especially peers) say we should do, and partly because our schools and universities don’t focus on helping us discover our true talents. Second, success depends a lot on occurrences and choices that put us in the “right place at the right time” to take advantage of our talents, and perhaps we do not find ourselves in a position to prosper because of bad choices and not discerning properly when making life choices.

To a person who recognizes both these aspects, namely that no one is superior to anyone else in terms of overall intelligence, and that success depends critically on many events, it is possible to be both discerning and non-judgmental at the same time. But, even for such a person, it may be difficult to sustain being a “non-judgmental discerner,” since most of us are so used to equating people’s overall worthiness to their success that we are usually either discerning and judgmental or neither.

But a person who learns to be both discerning and non-judgmental will experience tremendous freedom in expressing his true, authentic, opinions about others-since he will not feel weighed down by the problems that come when he is being judgmental, (judgements return to us). Further, such a person will exhibit the twin qualities of being motivated to look for everyone’s true-but perhaps hidden-talents, and of compassion towards those who haven’t had the ability to make them successful.

And finally, people will find it easier to take negative feedback from such a person since they will recognize that the feedback is not meant to be malicious. All of this points to true leadership ability. True, loving leadership as we saw yesterday, will position us to be more discerning than judgemental because we are not merely critical, but discerning what others need to succeed, not just what they are not doing, and what they are doing wrong. We may lead them to choose better options in all areas of life, that reposition them to discover their why, their purpose, thus allowing their giftings to be exposed and utilized.

BH/Adapted Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D

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