Too much judging can be bad for us

Tue, Dec 18, 2012, 00:00

THAT'S MEN:I was congratulating myself one Monday morning on having got through a lot of work the week before when I stopped and wondered what exactly was going on. Who was it taking it upon himself to congratulate me? Was it the same entity who frequently took it upon himself to shake his head at my failings which, while they are many, are not really in the super-villain league?

Of course the one doing the approving and disapproving is part of me but a part I suspect is made up of attitudes, assumptions and misinterpretations derived from a wider society.

Simply to live is not enough. You must live in a way that is approved of by those others who think they are entitled to judge.

For instance, in the large army of unemployed people is a small minority who are happy as they are, who didn’t work during the Celtic Tiger years and who have no intention of working in the future.

They probably cost the economy less than those who are eager to work because we do not have to invest money to create jobs for them or to provide roads, rail, buses or trains to get them to and from work. But do the rest of us approve of them? Most certainly not. How dare they turn their backs on the opportunity to stress themselves into early heart attacks?

Social creatures

This is not a point about unemployment but about the pervasive nature of judging which seems to be a trait we are stuck with – and I am sure the people I mentioned above do their own fair share of judging too.

Because as social creatures we have little versions of society in our heads, we extend the judging to ourselves in ways which, sometimes, are comical. So when you take that one drink too many or you have that fry in the morning, you may see shadowy doctors and dietitians hovering in the back of your mind, tut-tutting like disapproving ghosts.

Or perhaps you have photographs of parents, grandparents and great-grandparents on your sideboard and wonder if you are failing to live up to their expectations? That, I suppose, is why we value the family black sheep (once he or she is safely out of the way in the next world). The black sheep imposes no stern expectations.

It is tempting to blame the Catholic Church for all this, given its penchant for guilt, but the judge mentality can be found in far more ancient religions and seems inescapable. The image of the poor soul on the threshold of heaven or hell, watching as a lifetime’s good and bad deeds are thrown onto the weighing scales to decide his or her fate is very old and, let’s face it, very potent.

Sense of ethics

I dislike the judge and I think both myself and everyone around me would be better off if it could be made to disappear. This doesn’t mean I or you would go off the rails. It may be that a sense of ethics could operate very well indeed without that petty, begrudging old sod who dishes out emotional punishments while keeping us hooked on emotional rewards.

When my turn comes to die, and if I know it is happening (most of us don’t, at the time, as far as I can make out), I will be watching out for that smug judge in my mind to take its pipe out of its mouth (yes, my internal judge smokes a pipe, and wears pullovers) and assure me that I have done alright in life.

When that happens I want to muster the strength to do a Father Jack of Father Ted fame and yell “Ah, feck off!”

And if I have sufficient breath, I hope to add: “And, just in case you didn’t know, when I snuff it, you snuff it too. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

And so, in that spirit, I wish you a Merry Christmas whether you believe you deserve it or not.

Padraig O’Morain ( is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.

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