Redefining Judgment

Redefining Judgment

I consider myself a perfectionist. I take pride in the things I do, and I hold myself and all of my creations up to a pretty high standard. So it makes sense that I hate to be criticized. My sister, an artist, sees criticism as a way to improve. She puts it to good use and does not take it personally. I, on the other hand, abhor it.

Case in point: any time I write something, like an essay for school or a blog post like this, I invite someone to look it over. What I expect is that they will read it, declare it perfect, and congratulate me on my brilliance. However, since I am surrounded by intelligent, loving people, they usually find one or two things that I could improve and suggest them respectfully. I typically react by getting frustrated and defending what I have written. Kind of self-defeating, if you're seeking perfection.

I was talking to my sister Colleen recently, and she made an offhand comment about "criticism" and "judgment" being two different things. This caught my attention because for me, they have exactly the same meaning. And usually when you have the same definition for two different words and other people don't, there is a collapsed concept lurking, and the possibility of a new freedom on the other side. (See "Ending Exclusion Fears" for more on collapses.)

Hoping for a breakthrough, I decided to take this opportunity to look deeper into my own beliefs about those words. I started by checking what my own definition was, and came up with "criticism = judgment = an assessment of worth." Yep, to me they both meant the same thing and had a negative connotation, so any time I felt criticized or judged, it meant that someone had assessed my worth as a person and found me lacking. Pretty terrifying, and impossible not to take personally!

So I decided to consult the dictionary for a less biased opinion and found that criticisms are indeed judgments, but not all judgments are criticisms. Plus, a criticism can be an expression of disapproval, but it can also be "the activity of making careful judgments" that are not negative at all!

For further clarity, I read the definition for judgment: "an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought." I actually laughed out loud when I read that one. An opinion? That's it?!

A criticism is just a judgment and a judgment is just an opinion.

Opinions are another person's thoughts. They have no bearing on my worth as a person. They just say "what someone thinks about a particular thing." (I looked up "opinion" as well—I can't help it; I'm a word nerd!)

To quote Terry Cole-Whittaker, "What you think of me is none of my business." This has always resonated with me, but now I find it more liberating than ever. And, just in case you were wondering, I had two other people look over this blog post, and I am proud to say that I received their feedback with poise and gratitude—and put it to good use.

Got any collapses you're working on? Something that someone else has no trouble with but you do? Maybe I have that one, too. Let's find out!

5 Comments

  1. I always learn something new on this blog! Awesome post!

  2. Cocochanel,

    That’s my daughter’s post. Thanks for letting her know it made a difference for you.

  3. Cocochanel–thank you! This was my first personal growth post, but I doubt it will be my last.

  4. that was a lovely way to decipher the way we receive feedback – it is something i am learning slowly – i enjoy reading what you write betsy – what i also love is the way it supports your mother’s work – take care – lots of love n prayers

    • Betsy Blackard |

      Seema,
      Thank you! It is a process for us all. Luckily I have not only my family but the whole Language of Listening community to process it with. It’s always great to hear from you!

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