When we feel evaluated by the world around us, how do we respond? What’s it like to exist within a social space of observation, criticism and opinion rather than one of acceptance? At times, it seems we feel that because something’s there we have the right to pass constant judgement over it. As if our very existence and capacity makes us all these centres of evaluation.
We’re clearly taught to do this, to critically scrutinise our environment and everything in it. Thought can do that: take itself as the starting point and quite gleefully deconstruct the world around it to emerge the uncontested victor within our own minds (Notes One). The sparring, combative, increasingly brutal nature of the Western mindset is a pretty fascinating phenomenon, really.
And I suppose we might say it’s only natural, that humans have a capacity for thought so we’re bound to apply it within our communities. Social by nature, we’re then using the critical mind as a tool or a weapon within that world: judging by our own sense of what’s best, feeding back praise or shame where we feel it’s deserved, in an attempt to influence others (Notes Two).
What’s it like, though, to live within a social environment of critique and condemnation? We might be cognitive creatures, but we’re perhaps equally capable of compassion; we could withhold judgement and allow others the grace to be human. Aren’t we all weird and imperfect? Don’t we all make our mistakes out of an incomplete understanding of life, self and society?
Can the work of education truly be said to be ‘done’ by the time we leave childhood? And, if the process of living is to be, in part, an ongoing process of re-education, does that really need to be a school of shame and angry frustration? Of course, flawed understanding is ultimately dangerous for society and the planet as much as the individual, but what tools are best for resolving it? (Notes Three)
We ‘can’ judge, but should we? Does it actually help achieve our aims? What are those aims? When we judge, it seems we’re holding reality up against our mental picture of how things should be – this idealistic indignation at reality’s imperfections. But reality isn’t perfect, and it seems far from likely our ideas are all that perfect either.
Perhaps we’re all just frustrated that the world’s not as we were told, as we thought or expected, and others don’t see things quite as we do in all these irritating ways. Life’s surely the accumulation of countless actions? Everything we do could arguably be done better and we all have different areas of focus, different aspects of life we see the importance of and wish others would too.
If that’s the reality, are we really choosing to constantly hold all others to account based on our own thinking? Won’t we all then feel attacked, underappreciated, labelled, but never quite given the information, respect or space to change out of our own free will?
Notes and References:
Note 1: Strange arrogance of thought
Note 1: Where do ideas of evolution leave us?
Note 1: Ways thought adds spin to life
Note 2: Absolute or relative value
Note 2: What are our moral judgements?
Note 2: All we want to do passes through community
Note 2: Attempts to influence
Note 2: Can others join you?
Note 3: Dealing with imperfection
Note 3: The power of understanding
Note 3: Conversation as revelation
Alongside all this there’s always the question of human worth, as explored in Do we know what stands before us?