Judgment vs. Discernment

short hair woman stands in forest looking at sunset
by Amaya Pryce

When we judge others or ourselves, we create more messes; when we are discerning, there is no emotional or energetic charge in our being—it is simply a choice. The difference is in the energy. If there is blame or rejection, this is judgment. If there is compassion and clarity, this is discernment. ~ Heatherash Amara 

Let’s face it – the mind is a judging machine. We constantly evaluate ourselves, others, and life in general. If you asked me right now, I could give you an opinion on just about anything, usually with very little thought. When I was younger, I didn’t need to be asked to give others the “benefit” of my opinion, which predictably didn’t contribute much to the harmony of my relationships. Even if I didn’t express it out loud, I’m sure that my disapproval was clear – energy has a way of making itself felt!
Judging others feels good (for a while). The whole purpose of judging is to make ourselves feel superior and “right”… except, of course, when we turn the judgment inward, beating ourselves up for not meeting some fictional standard of perfection. Even the self-righteous thrill we get from judging others doesn’t last long. In reality it separates us from others, leaving us lonely and stressed.
Honestly, would you rather be happy or right?
And judging life – weather, events, objects, our health, our living situations, our bank accounts – is simply a no-win proposition. What is, is, no matter how unacceptable we may find it. There is always something we can judge and find wanting, if we allow ourselves to focus on what’s missing, rather than what we have.
So how do we stop judging? Is it even possible to stop?
For me, making a distinction between judgment and discernment has been very helpful. Evaluations in themselves aren’t really the problem, and in many ways are even helpful in making good choices and charting our course in life. We must make decisions all the time: Who do we hang out with? How do we spend our time? And so on.
The real problem arises with the energy behind those evaluations. When you feel an emotional charge along with the evaluation, consider it a red flag that you’re veering from discernment into judgment. What to do next depends on who or what you’re judging.

  • When I’m judging another person, I try to immediately find where I myself have done something similar. (Like the old truism that when you point a finger at someone else, three fingers are actually pointing back at you!) Even when it’s a behavior that I know I haven’t specifically been guilty of, I can usually find some equivalent, or at least imagine some circumstance in which I might have done the same. 
  • If I’m judging myself harshly, I try to revert to compassion. I give myself permission to make mistakes, and remember that I’m on a journey of personal growth. Where I am on that journey is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. (All of this help when judging others as well).
  • When I catch myself judging life, I try to deliberately shift my focus to something positive in the situation. It helps to remember that the mind has an inherently negative bias, but I don’t have to listen to it. The negative commentary will always be there, but I can choose to tune in to a different channel. This takes practice but eventually becomes more automatic. 

As with so many things in life (maybe everything), what counts is the energy behind what you do, say, and think.

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