In defense of critical judgement

I try not to be judgmental. I really do. I’m all too aware that the irritation some people cause in me is a reflection of – and a refusal to see – my own shortcomings.

FoxIn some spiritual movements, the Mayan expression, In Lak’ech, which vaguely translates to I am another You, has been adopted to urge people to be tolerant and forgiving of their fellow humans. The conviction this expresses is that, if we all showed more love and compassion, the world would be a better place.

I believe this. But, especially recently, the reality around me is pulling me the other way.

The most shocking example is the idiocy that has taken over this year’s American presidential elections. Donald Trump’s narcissistic, bigoted, and rude behavior is inexcusable. But what is truly shocking is that the popularity that won him the Republican nomination shows the same undercurrent of bigotry, ugliness, and stupidity in a large section of the American people. I cannot justify this by thinking, These poor people have been oppressed and ignored for so long, no wonder they go for extremes now. What is happening here sounds the final death knell for the spirit of Liberty and Justice for All. And the same undercurrents are surfacing (again) in Europe and many parts of the world.

Another example: I recently witnessed unethical and disrespectful behavior by some Dutch wildlife photographers photographing foxes. I commented on it and was ignored. Back home, I started a discussion in a nature photography forum. Many members agreed wholeheartedly. But some waved my plea for ethical wildlife photography aside with remarks like, “If you don’t like it, don’t go out there.”

On the side of social and ecological protest groups, I sometimes find similar behavior. I often receive pleas to sign petitions based on emotional arguments, but with little to no real information to back up the arguments. When I do research, I sometimes find the claims to be dubious or unfounded. I would like to be treated as an intelligent, critical human being, not as a signature (and donations) cow.

If I were to view all these people mildly, from the viewpoint of I am another You, I would close my eyes to all the reasons our world is seriously endangered. By doing so, I would become a part of the problem.

One of America’s great statesmen, Adlai Stevenson, remarked,
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed, for our safety, to its security and peace. Preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love we give our fragile craft.”

So I would like to make a distinction between being critically ethical: not taking things for granted, not remaining silent, but speaking out against practices that are destructive and at the root of the trouble our world is in, and being intolerantly and ignorantly judgemental. It may sound academic, but I believe there’s a significant difference.


  1. Aaaaaah, BRILLIANT Maddi, you go girl!!!

  2. I so agree, Maddi. To not be speak out in the face of dangerous rhetoric is to silence critical thinking.

  3. I so agree, Maddi. To not speak out in the face of dangerous rhetoric is to silence critical thinking.

  4. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    This is an excruciatingly painful time here. Every single day our senses are jolted by what we see and hear reported everywhere. There is no escape from it, nor any sane way to protect our children from being exposed to it. Parents try to protect their children, but the uncomfortable questions still are asked.
    I am shaken to the core with the fear that any measure of this may influence a general acceptance of the vitriol we are seeing in this presidential election. I am ashamed for our country and embarrassed that the world is watching. Thank you for understanding our pain!

  5. Thank you for putting into words what so many are thinking. I appreciate and agree with your explanation of the difference between critical and judgemental thinking. However, I think there are many people who are unable or unwilling to do the reading/research that would allow them to do any critical thinking.

  6. Hmmm – That’s three times I’ve contributed, believe I may be approaching a byline : )

  7. Almost an ouch (but not quite) that you hit the nail so squarely on our heads. None of us is free of judgmental thought and behavior. To be able to pick apart our seemingly rational if mistaken opinions and make something honest and direct with what we find there….that’s our personal responsibility, to see things as they are and not as others wish us to see them or how we’ve always seen them. That’s one route to critical thinking, which at its best may be creative thinking, and thus at its very best may lead to problem-solving. Your words always inspire as does your willingness to share your strengths and fears.

Leave a Reply