Monday, November 10, 2014

A Culture of Judgment

Athletes in a gymnasium. Gouache painting. Via Wikimedia Commons

Overall I consider myself a pretty non-judgmental person. Unless you're doing something mean or hurtful to other people I'm usually pretty much like "Whatever; knock yourself out." It's a free country.

But lately I've been catching myself judging. Especially in certain situations, I seem to be judging beyond the judgment necessary for daily life. And for some reason the gym -- and especially the exercise class I go to -- is a place that really brings out the judgmental asshole in me.

I judge people who join the exercise class late. I judge people who bring their phones into the class and check them in between workout tracks. I judge people who choose the more challenging option for a particular movement instead of the less challenging one even though they're physically incapable of doing the more challenging one in anything like a proper style.

You know when people doing a plank refuse to put their knees down even though they're not strong enough to do a plank on their toes, and so their butts go way up in the air, so it becomes a non-exercise for them, like doing downward dog? I am so judging those people. They drive me nuts.

But why? I know it's stupid to have an opinion. I know these people all have their reasons. Besides, what do I care? But unless I'm constantly policing my thoughts, these judgment comes right back.

The other day I went to an hour long exercise class and fifteen minutes into it -- fifteen minutes in to an hour class! -- a woman-of-a-certain-age came in. This happens to be a class where there's a lot of running and jumping, so before class the instructor always asks "Is this anyone's first time at this class?" and then explains how you don't have to do the running and jumping and how you can do other things and make substitutions so you're still getting the same workout etc. etc. etc.

Right away my inner judgment person was on high alert. Fifteen minutes late! But I thought to myself, "OK, maybe she comes to this class all the time and knows the drill; that'd be all right."

But no. She had no idea what was going on. For all the moves she couldn't do, she just kind of made up her own bopping to the music in a way that suited her. Her burpee was a kind of touch-your-toes and mini-hop move. Her plank was a classic downward dog.

And inside -- even as I'm doing the class and panting for breath -- I'm thinking, "If it's your first class you should come on time! And follow the instructions! They're there so you don't hurt yourself! And so that you actually get a work out!" She was right next to me and I just couldn't put her out of my mind.

So, WTF? What the fuck is my mind on about? I can't understand it myself. But since we're all here, let me work through a few hypotheses.

The "What Is The Point Of Exercise Class" Hypothesis: Exercise classes work partly because of the camaraderie of everyone being on the same page. The latecomers and flakes get in the way of that, and so I judge them.

Evaluation: Probably partly true, but doesn't explain the depth of feeling I bring to the whole thing, or the way I judge at the gym generally. Also kind of boring as an explanation.

The "Chaotic Environment Hypothesis": The rest of everything has become so chaotic, with everyone doing whatever the hell they want all the goddamn time, that the few spaces of structured expectation become sacred. Dealing with constant crossing against the light, eating and talking in the library, and throwing the recyclables in the garbage wears me down and turns me into a judgmental lunatic.

Evaluation: There may be something to it. You're in a long line and you deal with ten people in a row who finally get up to the cash register and THEN suddenly start getting out their wallet and you want to scream "Yes, payment! You will be paying! You could have spent the last ten minutes getting out your wallet! It wasn't a surprise" It builds up.

But still, it's pretty incomplete. Why judge at the gym when I could directly judge these actual anti-social behaviors?

The "Culture of Judgment Hypothesis": We live in a culture of relentless and constant judgment. Every third thing out of someone's mouth is passing judgment on someone else. It gets to me. Judgment is normalized, and feeling judged, I judge back.

Evaluation: There might be something to it. Even though on the surface we're all "live and let live," underneath, we're all silently judging one another. The internet these days is like one massive sharing of everyone's grievances with everyone else's behavior.

Not only does this normalize judgment, but maybe it makes me defensive. You judging me? You have opinions about my hairstyle or my devotion to Apple products or my love of Trollope or my  choice to wear high heels?

Well, two can play at that game, sweetheart.

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Laughing out loud. And I share your gym judgments, although - when I'm able to not judge, which takes a lot of work on my part, too - I can sometimes enjoy the crazy arm flailing of people who aren't following the directions. Only sometimes.

Tim said...

The "Chaotic Environment Hypothesis": ...You're in a long line and you deal with ten people in a row who finally get up to the cash register and THEN suddenly start getting out their wallet and you want to scream "Yes, payment! You will be paying! You could have spent the last ten minutes getting out your wallet! It wasn't a surprise" It builds up.

But still, it's pretty incomplete. Why judge at the gym when I could directly judge these actual anti-social behaviors?"

See, by also directly judging these actual behaviours, I remove the sense of dissonance with my judgemental dispositions in the gym-type cases.

André Haynes said...

LOL! I think your hypotheses are at least partly true, and may each be a special case of the "Projection" Hypothesis: we each have certain expectations of ourselves and the things we do, and these expectations may foster strong feelings towards doing things in a certain way. So much so that when we see others engaging in these things in a way that isn't compatible with the way we do them, it stands out like a sore thumb.

For me this is especially true if there is incompatibility in second-order desires, since our actions may often be misaligned with these. I absolutely detest littering...but I'll admit, I have littered in the past and probably will again some time in the future. But when I see someone have such scant regard for their surroundings that they litter when they can clearly do better with a little effort on their part, it really makes me angry. I've seen people litter on the beaches here in Barbados with a garbage can just a stone throw away...ridiculous! But really, at the end of the day them littering probably won't "change the price of rice", as the old saying here goes. It certainly doesn't cause me any physical harm or even mild inconvenience. I just wish others wished their surroundings were at least as clean as I wished they were. So to apply the hypothesis: I don't see why you should feel guarded about judging people at your gym based on their form, punctuality, presence, or any of the other values you judge yourself on. Why so judgy about judging?