Judgmental Block

By on March 6, 2011

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Thanks to pop psychology, the self-help industry, and New Age gurus, progressives have developed a knee-jerk opposition to judging others. The mantra goes like this: being judgmental, bad. Being tolerant, good.

A follower of The Thinking Vegan recently snarked, “some of us vegans just like being vegan without being judgemental [sic] or preachy.” (This in itself could be regarded as a judgment, as is my pointing out that the spelling error was in the original text, but parsing gets us nowhere.)

Although non-vegans constantly accuse us of being judgmental, the sting is a bit different when it comes from one of our own, and it gave me a chilling sense of Uncle Tom-ism to see a vegan adopt the language of the oppressor, in this case, the carnist.

But clearly the characterization of vegans as judgmental touches a nerve. Carnists are extraordinarily defensive and sensitive at times – which disproves the theory that eating animals makes one tough. Just being vegan is apparently enough to offend some of them, and hurt their feelers.

People feel “judged” by vegans because they are experiencing guilt or shame about their choices. This is uncomfortable for them. Rather than look within themselves to reconsider the choices they have made that cause their guilt and shame, they find it much easier on their egos to blame a vegan for causing these negative, but perfectly natural and understandable, emotions. As vegans, like it or not, we serve as a mirror. Other people see something about themselves reflected in us. Most of the time, they do not like what they see.

It’s very difficult to control how someone may react to us, to what we may say or simply how we may live our lives. Like beauty, judgment is in the eye of the beholder. (And what one person regards as judgmental or critical, another person thinks is innocuous.) As an early adopter of a hybrid, one of the first Priuses to roll off the line in 2002, I recall getting the occasional finger from SUV drivers. I did nothing to prompt such reactions; I assure you I’m an excellent driver. I had no bumper stickers or anything that would inspire this response. One driver rolled down his window at a stoplight to sneer, “More gas for me!” Just driving a fuel-efficient car near them was enough to cause them to feel I was judging them.

The Bible says “judge not, lest ye be judged,” another thing the New Agers love to appropriate for their own purposes. Taken in context, the advice offered is to avoid hypocritically judging people for something of which you yourself are guilty. In other words, don’t use something against them that they could turn back on you. It means ‘walk your walk and talk your talk,’ not ‘be loving and accepting of everybody in the world regardless of how you feel about their choices.’ (Evangelical Christianity certainly doesn’t endorse that.)

We can’t censor ourselves for fear of being labeled as “judgmental” when we want to tell the truth. If you’re accused of this, instead of shutting up, consider saying something like “I understand this subject makes you uncomfortable. Those feelings are totally valid. Lots of people are upset by [fill in the blank].”

The idea of remaining nonjudgmental, even toward people with unethical and regressive belief systems, is greatly troubling. Veganism is a major component of a larger social justice movement to eliminate speciesism and elevate the status of animals. If we all just stood around being respectful and tolerant of each other, this movement wouldn’t get far.

All great social change stems from people making a judgment. A group of people has to stand up and say “this is wrong, and must be stopped.” That’s a judgment, and it takes a certain fearlessness to do this. The first child labor laws were passed because people agreed that children shouldn’t have to earn a living doing dangerous factory work. This was a judgment, and corporations fought it tooth and nail.

As a civilization, a little more judgment would be a healthy thing. Let’s not let our progress be arrested by too much of this belief that we can love people into changing the world.

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Comments

  1. foodchain
    March 7, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Thank you for opening up a discussion that desperately needs to be had – and for putting into words what’s been silently eating away at me lately.

    “Liberal” America has a serious phobia of confrontation. It’s an understandable conflict of the times. Reflecting upon our history inevitably conjures up shame and embarrassment over decades of hate. Nudging out Native Americans, African slavery, women’s suffrage, the illegality of gay marriage, anyone? So people are desperately seeking refuge in this yogic, meditative, accepting zeitgeist. A microcosm of this movement, of course, is the vegan who “doesn’t judge.” I’m willing to wager that all of this lovingkindness and personal inner peace probably *feels* good, at least in the short term, but like you said, the dangerous side effect is that it’s arresting our progress. Instead of avoiding conflict, it ultimately enables it.

    So my question is…how do we confront the anti-confronters?

  2. bryan
    March 7, 2011

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    This is something I often try to explain, but never so eloquently. Carnists would have you believe that there is a small army of judgmental vegans. I’ve only ever encountered a small handful of them, personally. The real judgmental vegan lives in the head of the carnist: a thinking, caring shred of being, fighting–usually with no success–to rise to the surface.

  3. Kezia Jauron
    March 7, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    How do we confront the “anti-confronters?” You mean the “love-and-light” kind of vegans?

    I know a few people who say that knowing “anti-confronters” didn’t compel them to learn more about the issues or consider their own choices. It wasn’t until they met “confronters” that they educated themselves and changed their ways. One person said that if she’d been exposed to the truth she would have gone vegan ten years earlier. However her first encounter was with a love-and-light vegan, who told her that her diet, which was vegetarian at the time, was her “personal choice” – an expression I loathe. So that’s a clear example, anecdotal though it may be, of how this approach doesn’t help animals.

    If you feel you have to confront an anti-confronter, I’d try something like “right, I respect your opinion, but ultimately I’m interested in saving animals, not saving people’s feelings” or “yes, but to me this is an issue of social change, not someone’s diet, and it requires a more proactive approach.”

  4. Kezia Jauron
    March 7, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    How do we confront the “anti-confronters?” You mean the “love-and-light” kind of vegans?

    I know a few people who say that knowing “anti-confronters” didn’t compel them to learn more about the issues or consider their own choices. It wasn’t until they met “confronters” that they educated themselves and changed their ways. One person said that if she’d been exposed to the truth she would have gone vegan ten years earlier. However her first encounter was with a love-and-light vegan, who told her that her diet, which was vegetarian at the time, was her “personal choice” – an expression I loathe. So that’s a clear example, anecdotal though it may be, of how this approach doesn’t help animals.

    If you feel you have to confront an anti-confronter, I’d try something like “right, I respect your opinion, but ultimately I’m interested in saving animals, not saving people’s feelings” or “yes, but to me this is an issue of social change, not someone’s diet, and it requires a more proactive approach.”

  5. christina cho
    March 7, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I’m not judgin’ i’m jus sayin’!!

    GREAT article, Kezia! wowowow!! <3's it

  6. christina cho
    March 7, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I’m not judgin’ i’m jus sayin’!!

    GREAT article, Kezia! wowowow!! <3's it

  7. Kezia Jauron
    March 8, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I think we got a shout-out! Check #38 on the VegNews list of 99 Things You Must Do:

    http://vegnews.com/web/articles/page.do?pageId=3019&catId=6

  8. Kezia Jauron
    March 8, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    I think we got a shout-out! Check #38 on the VegNews list of 99 Things You Must Do:

    http://vegnews.com/web/articles/page.do?pageId=3019&catId=6

  9. Martha
    March 10, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    As a abolitionist vegan who practices meditation and lots of introspection, I have pondered these two concepts (judgment & tolerance) many time. What I am learning is that not judging others isn’t for the benefit of the other person, it’s for my benefit. When I am in deep judgment (which I often am) it keeps me from addressing the situation (omni or vegetarian) with a clear mind. If I can set my judgment of the person and their acceptance of animal use and abuse aside, then I am better able to be clear about my stance on veganism from an abolitionist perspective.

    You can never control how others will react to what you are saying, but you may have some skills that will diffuse a volatile response (even then, there is no guarantee it will work). I don’t have a goal of “not making people mad” though. My goal is to be consistent in my message that animals are sentient and it is a violation for people to use them for their benefit.

    I’ve also learned that we all have a ceiling in our comfort zone and when we are pushed past that ceiling we get real uncomfortable and we fight back like hell. This is normal. But if you sit with the discomfort, acknowledge it, let it speak and reassure it that thing will be okay and you won’t die, then you eventually move past the discomfort into change and a new comfort zone. This is why I really dislike vegans who condone humane animal use or reduced animal use. Those actions allow you to stay in your comfort zone and keep you from growing into change.

    When we talk to the public about animal use/abuse, we should also be asking questions like “what are you afraid will happen if you went vegan?” and “Does it make sense that a person who deeply believes that abusing animals is wrong supports an industry whose sole existence is based on abusing animals?”

    A tactic that works for one person won’t work for another and some people will “get it” right away while others will dismiss it all together. All we can do is stay consistent with our values and keep giving the information knowing all the while we will push some buttons, not because we are “radical” or “preachy”, but because it’s human nature.

    Oh and in regards to your first paragraph, how is calling vegans who are consistent “preachy”, not judgmental?

  10. Martha
    March 10, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    As a abolitionist vegan who practices meditation and lots of introspection, I have pondered these two concepts (judgment & tolerance) many time. What I am learning is that not judging others isn’t for the benefit of the other person, it’s for my benefit. When I am in deep judgment (which I often am) it keeps me from addressing the situation (omni or vegetarian) with a clear mind. If I can set my judgment of the person and their acceptance of animal use and abuse aside, then I am better able to be clear about my stance on veganism from an abolitionist perspective.

    You can never control how others will react to what you are saying, but you may have some skills that will diffuse a volatile response (even then, there is no guarantee it will work). I don’t have a goal of “not making people mad” though. My goal is to be consistent in my message that animals are sentient and it is a violation for people to use them for their benefit.

    I’ve also learned that we all have a ceiling in our comfort zone and when we are pushed past that ceiling we get real uncomfortable and we fight back like hell. This is normal. But if you sit with the discomfort, acknowledge it, let it speak and reassure it that thing will be okay and you won’t die, then you eventually move past the discomfort into change and a new comfort zone. This is why I really dislike vegans who condone humane animal use or reduced animal use. Those actions allow you to stay in your comfort zone and keep you from growing into change.

    When we talk to the public about animal use/abuse, we should also be asking questions like “what are you afraid will happen if you went vegan?” and “Does it make sense that a person who deeply believes that abusing animals is wrong supports an industry whose sole existence is based on abusing animals?”

    A tactic that works for one person won’t work for another and some people will “get it” right away while others will dismiss it all together. All we can do is stay consistent with our values and keep giving the information knowing all the while we will push some buttons, not because we are “radical” or “preachy”, but because it’s human nature.

    Oh and in regards to your first paragraph, how is calling vegans who are consistent “preachy”, not judgmental?

  11. Kezia
    March 11, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Very good points, Martha – thank you. It reminds me of what St. Francis of Assisi said – I’m going to botch the quote but it’s something like “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

  12. Kezia
    March 11, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Very good points, Martha – thank you. It reminds me of what St. Francis of Assisi said – I’m going to botch the quote but it’s something like “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

  13. Susan
    March 11, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Being judgemental is just the easy way out of not spending the time to understand all the underlying influences upon human behaviors. This is where you might also cite the christian phrase, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Behaviors are affected by emotion and emotions by so many things. I still think that negative will beget negative, and positive is far more effective when it comes to changeing the bad behavior of human kind. Understanding eachother would take a major evolutionary leap.

    Damn the deed not the doer!

  14. Susan
    March 11, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    Being judgemental is just the easy way out of not spending the time to understand all the underlying influences upon human behaviors. This is where you might also cite the christian phrase, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Behaviors are affected by emotion and emotions by so many things. I still think that negative will beget negative, and positive is far more effective when it comes to changeing the bad behavior of human kind. Understanding eachother would take a major evolutionary leap.

    Damn the deed not the doer!

  15. stuntdouble
    April 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    You suck for using the phrase “Uncle Tom-ism”.

  16. stuntdouble
    April 5, 2011

    Leave a Reply

    You suck for using the phrase “Uncle Tom-ism”.

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