Friday, June 10, 2011

(Non)Judgment Day?

I am currently taking a class which includes work on learning "mindfulness."

Mindfulness is a useful concept: according to one of its most well-known proponents, John Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

That "nonjudgmentally" can be the most important and difficult area:  learning to say, for example, "when Anthony Weiner sent that picture of his crotch to that woman, he acted with a seeming disregard for the consequences and with a lack of judgment and awareness of how his action would be perceived" rather than "what a freaking idiot." Being nonjudgmental makes one far more prolix and long-winded, it would seem.

All well and good.  I am working on this -- especially in traffic.  I am trying to learn to say "that was not a safe maneuver," rather than "you bastard -- cut me off, will you?" If nothing else, it may reduce the chances of ending up on the wrong end of a road rage incident.

But there are also cases which are far more problematic: if saying "that is immoral" is a judgment, what about rape? Or murder? Or child abuse?  Can we somehow refrain from saying "that is an evil act"? More to the point, should we?

To be completely nonjudgmental is to imply that there are no evil acts in the world.  "That was incredibly hurtful to the victim" simply fails to capture the horror and revulsion which most people feel rightfully towards such acts. (And yes, that "rightfully" was judgmental.)  We need to have words, judgmental or not, which capture our pain and rage as individuals and as a society.

The difficulty, as I see it, is expanding that concept of evil acts to encompass individuals.  To say "they are evil" rather than "they did an evil act" is to eliminate all hope of redemption.  I have a great many problems with that.  People do evil acts for all sorts of reasons: drunkenness, bad judgment, rage, anger, not learning any better.  One of my favorite characters on television once said "I think we are all capable of atrocities under the right circumstances." And there are ways in which society - especially in the case of rape -- aids and abets those actions.

There are people who seem beyond redemption: the Adolf Hitlers, and on a far lesser scale, the Fred Phelpses of the world seem to be too far gone in the love of their own horrible actions to ever let go of them, let alone try for atonement.  And yes, there are sociopaths and psychopaths, who view the rest of the world as their own private hunting ground. (I myself viewed Osama Bin Laden as one of those irredeemable individuals.)

But today there is far too much labeling of people as evil. The level of harsh judgment which occurs in public and political discourse is breathtaking. (No, that breathtaking is not a judgment.)  It closes discourse: who would agree to debate anyone whom you define as perverted or traitorous? Over anything?

Moreover, some criminals are not seen as the perpetrators of evil acts, but as human monsters.  Defining someone as "monstrous" means that, once they are convicted or even in some cases suspected of a crime, nothing that happens matters to them --  not torture by authorities to gain information, not rape in prison, not death -- whether at the hands of fellow inmates or in the execution chamber.

Defining someone as "monstrous" might make it all that much harder to believe -- and more painful for victims to accept -- evidence which shows that they were, in fact, innocent.  If miscarriages of justice are seen, in their own way, as being "evil," then such judging may lead to its own evil.

I am not sure exactly where I am going with this, other than to observe that refusing to pass judgment is far more difficult that it can seem at first blush.  And that the more I think about it, the more the tendency of our society to refrain from doing that, the more I am troubled by it.

Maybe I'm learning this "nonjudgmentally" business after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment