JUDGMENTAL: of or denoting an attitude in which personal assessments about other people’s conduct are made


First of all…there’s a spelling issue we have to put to rest immediately.   Many of us like to spell judgement with an “e” in the middle of it.  By tradition there is no “e,” the word is spelled judgment.  Having said that, there is a new “permission” being given by some editors to spell it either way.   For myself, I like the traditional way, so it will be “judgmental” in my writing today.

There is a difference between judgment and judgmental.

  • Judgment is an informed act of differentiating between right and wrong, good and bad, excellent or not so excellent.  It is a property given to someone by election, appointment, or consensus.  The judge of a court or the judge of a pie-eating contest have been given authority to make a decision by those being judged.  It is a legitimate role, the person having displayed credentials that the contestants have approved.
  • Judgmental is a biased decision, based more upon opinion than fact.  Nobody is appointed to be judgmental. It is a negative, hurtful action in which a person is assessed by characteristics or actions which a person finds to be offensive.

In a court case, for instance, a person (defendant) is placed before a judge and maybe a jury.   It is assumed by law that the person is innocent.  It is the responsibility of the attorneys for the municipality to prove the opposite. Unless the defendant is guilty by the evidence presented,(he) is deemed innocent and allowed to leave in freedom.  In some cases there is no jury.  The judge is the only person hearing the evidence.   (She) is empowered to determine if the charges brought against the defendant are sufficient or insufficient in proving guilt. THE MEMBERS OF THE PRESS ARE NOT EMPOWERED TO JUDGE THE DEFENDANT.  Their role is to report the circumstances placed before the court.

I stress this point because I am personally offended by the media judgments which are apart from the legal decisions of the court.  It is something called “Monday morning quarterbacking.”  The trial has been held, The evidence (or lack thereof) has been displayed before the court.  A decision has been rendered.   There is a process available for appeal. Unless it is invoked, the decision announced rests.

Following the lengthy trial and deliberations of the recent “Boston Bombing” defendant, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, there has been a tremendous amount of media conversation about the decisions reached by the jury and the future of the defendant.  He was found guilty and sentenced by the jury to die.  There will be years and years of appeals and hearings before (if ever) Mr. Tsarnaev is executed.   The media talk is laced with more than enough judgmentalism.

Today’s conversation on NPR had to do with the fact that the defendant was stoic throughout the trial and the sentence hearing.   At only one point did he show emotion, when his Aunt from Russia spoke lovingly of him.  His stoicism is being judged by some in the media as showing arrogance and lack of compassion for the victims.

There is absolutely no way to know if the defendant is arrogant or lacking in compassion.  A Roman Catholic nun who met with him assured the court that he is, indeed sorry for his actions, and has feelings for those who died or were injured.  In spite of that, his failure to cry, grimace, or collapse in his seat are being cast as “proof” of his cold-heartedness.   Mr. Tsarnaev has never spoken to the court.   The only words we have heard from him throughout the process have been in response to the judge’s question at the very beginning if he understood the charges and his response to them.  He responded in a polite “yes, sir.”

The rest of the time he has been quiet, respectful, and seemingly attentive without showing facial reactions, or other gestures which would make it easier for people to know what he’s feeling.   I suspect that he is intentionally restraining himself from demonstrating any feelings.  He is not required to.   And simply because it would be helpful for the families of the victims or the reporters to see some gesture of emotion, that is no reason to sound as if it is required.

Different people respond to a tense situation differently.  Mr. Tsarnaev has reacted with no show of emotion.  Perhaps he is in shock.  Perhaps he is not in the habit of emoting.  And perhaps he has been cautioned by his attorney not to demonstrate emotions, thus playing his hand before the court.   There is a long way to go in the legal process.

It is entirely judgmental on the part of the media to assess feelings or lack of feelings to the defendant.  Just because the reporter or the anchor would react differently does not mean this young man should…or even can.  He is 21 years old and has just heard that he is going to be put to death by the United States Government.   That is different news than if he bought the wrong tickets to the Preakness or his team didn’t win the Harkness Trophy.   What is happening inside of him is very personal and not open to others‘ judgments.  They have had their moment in the decision of a jury and judge who were appointed to represent them.

To be judgmental is to take on a role not assigned to any of us.   We are simply spectators at this point.  We must work out our own grief and confusion given the credentials with which we have been blessed.  __________________________

Illustration Credit: fiftytwochanges.com

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