The Holidays are coming. In a few more days we’ll all be sitting with family and friends, enjoying a Thanksgiving feast. Ideally, the Holidays are a time of joy, celebration, and making memories with the ones you love. But, most of the time, the Holidays are tainted with stress. The stress of strained family relationships. The stress of financial hardship. The stress to be perfect. And, if you dig down deep, some of this stress can be attributed to the worry of being judged.
With the Holidays coming, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about judgement. I know, that seems like a weird thing to be consciously thinking about, but it isn’t without reason. As our big extended family has been planning and preparing for the Holiday, I’ve been asked numerous times if a member of my family, let’s call her Maggie, will be coming. You see, Maggie isn’t in contact with very many people right now. And it’s not uncommon for her to decide to skip family gatherings. I beg and plead with her to come. “At the very least, bring the boys over for a little while. Everyone wants to see them! After all, it’s the Holidays!” Invariably her answer comes down to one thing: “I don’t feel like being judged right now.”
We’re all taught that judging others is wrong. “Unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes…” And yet, we’ve all felt judgement at some point in our lives. And let’s be honest, families can be the worst at judging each other. Feeling like you’re being judged by others is hurtful. But does that mean that it’s always wrong to judge?
Maggie has struggled for over a decade. She’s definitely an instant gratification person; She’ll always choose what is easiest or more satisfying right now, even if she knows it will have terrible consequences down the road. She’s a beautiful, captivating person. In her early twenties there was always someone there to set her back on her feet. Now that she’s in her thirties, it’s becoming harder and harder for her to find someone to save her. She’s burnt a lot of bridges over the years. Once she’s on her feet, she’ll typically do well for about a year or so. And then suddenly, she falls again. Over the past five years, it’s always been easy to tell when she’s starting to fall; she starts hanging out with the same questionable people again, and starts limiting communication with family and friends.
Maggie and I have always been close, and in the interest of maintaining our relationship, when things start going bad I try not to ask too many questions, or express opinions on what she’s doing, and she tries not to share too much about what’s going on. She doesn’t like the feeling that people are judging the choices she makes. Instead of confronting it, or dealing with it, she runs and hides. Her “other friends”, the ones she only hangs out with when things have gone bad, don’t make her feel like she’s being judged for her decisions. “They accept me for who I am!”
But is that really true? Has Maggie found herself a “judgement free zone”, where she can go when things are bad? Hardly. I’ve met the people Maggie hangs out with, and heard her talk about them when things are good and bad. Actually, the reverse is true. It’s not that Maggie has found a place where she isn’t being judged. It’s that she’s found a place where she can make herself feel better by judging. “My kids may be staying with their Dads right now, but at least CPS didn’t take them away from me.” “I may make bad choices in the guys I date, but at least I haven’t slept with every guy at the bar.” “I may be unemployed right now, but at least I’m not gaming the system.” These are all statements that I’ve heard Maggie make about the people she hangs around with when times are tough. When she’s feeling down about the direction she’s headed in life, being around these people makes her feel better. Her choices seem less bad when compared to the choices of others.
I love reading Jane Austen novels, and watching movies based on her writings. In her day, women had very few choices in life; they were severely limited in being able to make, or even inherit, money. The only way for a woman to be “protected” in life was to make smart choices in marriage. Women who made bad choices were severely judged. Have sex outside of marriage? You were ruined, and had likely ruined the rest of your family. Judging women who made bad choices kept other women from following the same path. The fear of judgement forced women to make “better choices”, for better or for worse. True, it also maintained the inequality of women in society, and halted advancements.
Is it always wrong to judge others? People are chastised for judging the person with the iPhone and $150 sneakers using food stamps at the grocery store. And true, we don’t know that person’s situation, or how they came to be in that position. But, by not judging, isn’t it making it acceptable to make bad choices? If people can make any choice, good or bad, without the fear of being judged by others, doesn’t that encourage them to make bad choices? If it becomes acceptable to have luxuries, while living off the system for your basic needs, doesn’t that stress the system?
Maggie avoids our family so she won’t have to feel judged for continuing to make bad choices. But, isn’t it safe to say that if she felt that judgement, it might pressure her to make better choices? Let’s face it, life isn’t always easy. And, as a responsible adult, we don’t always get to do what we want. I don’t enjoy working. But, until I’m able to support myself without working, I have to continue going to work. Maggie may not enjoy working. But she has bills to pay, and kids to support. And yes, people are judging her for not doing so. And maybe, just maybe, that judgment isn’t such a bad thing.
– Cindy W.
Note: Yes, like most families, my family does have a habit of judging each other’s choices, and talking about each other. However, my family is also extremely non-confrontational. If you’re making choices the family doesn’t agree with, you may feel the judgement, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone will say anything directly to you about it. We also aren’t ones to shun. Family is still family, regardless of what they’ve done.