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.