I think I agree with most of that (and thanks for clarifying the difference between judging and being judgemental – I had made a wrong assumption there).

On the judging thing: part of the problem is that, ultimately, we tend to map anything on a good/bad continuum. I don’t think it’s quite a linear scale, or at least not necessarily all the time. Rather, I think it’s a plane where things can be good and bad simultaneously, and where we make the final reduction onto a single scale only when we need to make a decision (so we weigh up the good and the bad).

If that is what judging is then it seems to me hard to divorce being judgemental about people from judging people. There is an inevitable attribution of value in the act of judging, and since we necessarily relate it to *us*, we evaluate where the value of someone else sits compared to our own. For example, Fred doesn’t care at all about sports, but is a film buff. A new colleague, Al, joins, who turns out to be really into football. Fred inevitably judges Al – result: Fred doesn’t value Al as highly as if he had also been into movies. (This is nothing to do with their relationship with each other, just with where Fred would place Al in the universe of people he knows). The effect is stronger, the stronger the judgement – substitute “Trump voter”, “Remainer”, “Corbynista”, or “Neo-Nazi” for “football nut” to see how. Does that make sense?

On epistemology: I’ve long thought about it this way – in order to be able to communicate and cooperate with others, we need to share a reality. Not 100% of it, but enough to make the interaction work. The temptation is to think that what we experience is an objective reality, that applies universally. But that is not necessary (and effectively impossible to verify). It’s more like this: if we play a game of scrabble or monopoly with others, we need some rules – some are given in the box, others are variants or additions or deviations we agree with our fellow players. But that reality of those rules has a limited scope: not just that game, but that game played with those people. The rules of monopoly we follow when playing it with Yvonne, Jools and Trixie are no use when we play whist with Lil, Francis and Pamela.

It’s tempting to extrapolate and generalize from our experience, and we do it all the time, but it’s just not necessary. The simplest explanation of ‘reality’ is that it’s made up on the spot, to the extent that it is useful to facilitate interaction with others (or indeed with ourselves). No need for universal truth :-)

Written by

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store