Workshop probes pitfalls of being judgmental - Catholic Courier

Workshop probes pitfalls of being judgmental

To a certain degree, Barbara Skidmore believes the capacity to render quick judgment is an essential.

"We make judgments all the time that are not necessarily bad. I might have to make judgements for my children, judgments that would keep them safe," she explained.

But what if one’s ability to judge is tainted by excessive, unfounded criticism? This unfortunate, yet highly common impulse — "we all have the tendency to do it," Skidmore said — is what led her to conduct a workshop on May 21 at Elmira’s Christ the Redeemer Parish/Our Lady of Lourdes Church.

During her presentation Skidmore, a licensed mental-health counselor, listed possible causes for being judgmental. One is high self-expectation: "We try very hard. We tend to set standards for ourselves. We expect certain things for ourselves, and that carries over into setting standards for other people," she said. "’This person shouldn’t be doing this’ — we become angry, irritated. Sometimes we’re overcritical of other people."

Criticism of those around us can be fueled by anger, depression and/or anxiety in one’s own life, she observed.

"There are many people who have problems and don’t rise to a mental-health diagnosis, but are still very unhappy," said Skidmore, a Christ the Redeemer parishioner.

Even so, Skidmore said these potential underlying reasons are not adequate excuses for prejudging.

"Sometimes we jump to conclusions based on very minimal information we have about someone," she said. "We have to take a look at it. Is it my place to judge, do I have enough information?"

To illustrate her point, she used the example of being awakened in the night by a big crash in the next room. One person may immediately fear a burglar is trying to enter the house; another may think a window was left open and the wind has knocked some items over. Although either conclusion may be correct, neither is supported by enough facts right at that moment to discern the truth.

The moral stakes become much higher when it comes to judging other people. Skidmore cautioned that "judgment-making is connected to Scripture — we’re admonished to be careful about the judgments we make."

Indeed, Jesus states in Matthew 7: "Stop judging, that you may not be judged." In John 8, he adds: "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone." Skidmore also suggested considering how it would feel knowing that we or our loved ones were being judged as harshly as we judge other people.

In addition to forming unfair judgments about others, Skidmore warned against judging our own selves too severely: "Sometimes we’re overcritical about ourselves in ways that could be very harmful — ‘I’m inadequate, I’m stupid, I’m unattractive, no one could ever love me.’"

The good news is that judgment can become more balanced with a concerted effort. Skidmore advised participants at the May 21 gathering to identify their thoughts — "examine the beliefs we have and see if they’re in line with reality. If we find our beliefs are not healthy, then we can go about changing them." She added that if our goal is to become more positive, we’ll in turn be less judgmental of ourselves and others.

"I think the whole idea of attitude, and attitude change, could be helpful to everybody," Skidmore said. She noted that she worked for 31 years with substance-abuse patients before retiring last summer, and many were able to successfully grasp the concepts she promotes: "It’s pretty intuitive. If you get a little background in it, it’s like, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’ It’s not rocket science."

Skidmore said the workshop at Our Lady of Lourdes was well-received, and thus she and parish officials are discussing the possibility of staging future sessions on such topics as self-esteem, assertiveness and anger management.

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