“I talked to this loser today, who has no life and seems to think no one else should either. Instead of engaging with me, he stared ahead like a sulky child and refused to fully acknowledge me. The guy’s a non-starter. He doesn’t have anything interesting to talk about.”
Compare this with
“I talked to this guy today who seemed kind of deep in his own thoughts. He was often looking away during our conversation, and I wondered what was going through his head. I couldn’t connect with the things he was talking about.”
This is an example of two different ways to react to the same interaction. In the first way, a tone of judgment and assumptions takes over. In the second way, things are stated as observations, rather than judgments.
Many books have been written about using language that declares less and observes more, and uses “I observed” or “I felt” as a starting point for talking about observations. But what I want to highlight here is the power of habit: if you are in the habit of speaking judgmentally, very often, you will say things of a negative, shaming character without even realizing it.
Phrases like “he’s a nervous wreck” or “she’s ugly” or even less sharp but still judgmental-sounding statements like “she never seems to have a free moment” or “he’s got issues” all have negative, repelling tones; with a few exceptions, they show disdain and disrespect toward the person being talked about. A positive-thinking person will want to be conscious of this and avoid speaking this way as much as possible – but this level of consciousness about one’s speech is not the norm, so it takes an additional effort. Moralistic, judgmental speech is everywhere!
There is an incentive, above and beyond “being nice,” to ridding your speech of judgmental characteristics: What you say and how you say it says a lot about you. If you describe people and things in negative, judgmental tones, you will portray yourself as being a negative, judgmental person. Even if you mix your judgmental speech with an overall happy attitude, still – you may often be judged yourself as:
- Unsafe (that a person can’t be themself around you, because you might use it against them). And thus
- Inconsiderate of others
- Bigoted (a lot of comments that take on elements of prejudice come from judgmental thinking)
Keep in mind, this often applies to things a person doesn’t even think twice about saying. It’s amazing how often a subtext that some people see and form opinions around is completely missed by others. Positive people are interested in these subtexts – we want to be tuned in, to learn, to encourage people to feel safe around us. A big part of doing this involves watching our language, in a far broader context than just slurs and swearwords.
Somebody very close to me often says “I’m not ‘politically correct!’ I’m not going to have my speech censored just because somebody doesn’t like it.” But it’s not a question of censorship, because you can say whatever you like. I’ll be the first to admit that there are times I say judgmental things – in fact, there are times I consciously choose to make a judgment, knowing that what I say is not free of negative bias. As human beings, we are inevitably going to form judgments.
But so much judgmental speech is just unconsciously thrown out there, as if it were some normal thing – and this makes in very hard sometimes to connect with people and find common ground and understanding. Not only do the judgmental things we say hurt other people; we also [this is everybody] develop habits of closing ourselves off from society as a result of living in the midst of all these judgments.
Positive people want to cut through this – and they do. By example, if nothing else. They eagerly listen and adjust when they are told that something they said caused negative feelings in another person. They consciously try to find ways of saying things that are less likely to be misunderstood, because think about it: once you are misunderstood, especially if in a negative way, what you were originally trying to communicate is a whole lot more likely to be forgotten! Unless you are trying to get people to think you are judgmental and prejudiced, why would you want to risk sounding that way? (Especially if there is an alternative way to say exactly the same thing in a non-judgmental way)
This is a very important topic simply because prejudiced, judgmental speech is part and parcel of every society I’ve ever known of. No matter where you go, though the style might vary, people’s speech habits tend to be rife with subconscious judgments in some way or another. Like any other human habit, this is not something that will ever completely go away – but it is infinitely possible – and necessary – to become much more conscious of when judgment and prejudice is happening, in the interest of everything from smoother-flowing conversation and personal safety to fighting against oppression of socially disadvantaged groups.