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Judge me not... oh, go on then!

By Peter Shepherd

In New Age circles there is quite a lot of use of the word "judgment" that could easily be misinterpreted. The dictionary definition is clear: it's a rational appraisal, opinion or conclusion and as such a necessary cognitive process. But there is this use of the adjective "judgmental," in particular when referring to a faulty or prejudiced judgment...

- of or concerning the use of judgment : judgmental errors.
- having or displaying an excessively critical point of view : "I don't like to sound judgmental, but it was a big mistake."

So making a judgment (which can and should be open minded) is easily confused in meaning with a "judgmental" condemnation (which is closed minded). We need discernment; we don't need prejudice and intolerance of another's differing point of view.

Equally we don't need to be told by a person who can't discriminate these two meanings that any conclusion we have reached is "judgmental" and unenlightened. Nor of course, to be told that discriminating between two qualities as different in some way necessarily means we are "discriminating against" one of them in a prejudiced and unfair manner!

And that's before we start on acceptance ("I agree, yes please") vs. acceptance ("OK, that's how it is, no point resisting, pretending it isn't, worrying about it and all that stuff"). Old agers who are accustomed to one meaning of a word obviously think new agers - who emphasize the other end of the spectrum of that word - are somewhat batty and off the wall. The new age view is that to accept something doesn't mean that you agree with it, or will do nothing about improving the situation, but that you're not going to beat yourself up about it or try to twist things away from the truth: what is. Love replacing fear, basically.

"Ego" is another frequently misunderstood term. Freud coined the word to mean the individual identity, the "I" of the person, with no differentiation from the spiritual soul. But so often nowadays the meaning of ego is linked too closely with "egotistical," a compulsive and selfish egoism, whereas that in fact is the result of a weak ego, dominated by fears and ruled by conditioning. A strong and well developed ego is independent, aware and mindful, and outgoing love replaces that introspective fear. So we don't achieve a more enlightened state by eradicating the ego, instead we do best to care for our personal growth. This is fully explained in the article Ego Autonomy and Overcoming the Superego.

Ah, language. But we do need language, since without it all our thoughts would remain at the concrete, emotional and instinctual level, and abstract concepts that were outside our direct experience would be forever beyond us, as they are for cats and dogs. Concepts like freedom, equality and fraternity. We wouldn't be able to learn from other people's experience and ideas, or from history and literature. Language is essential to organize our memories, to think about what is going on in one's own mind. In contrast to animals, humans can use inner speech to call to mind previous states of awareness; previous thoughts, feelings and actions. So words have value, but we should never be blinkered by too narrow a definition.

It is an essential part of our education to learn to appreciate the nuances and expressive power of words. We need to read and read well - or listen and listen well - to explore ideas, other people's as well as our own, and to exercise our imaginations as we recreate the literal descriptions and connect the abstract concepts, playing with the pros and cons of any issue. Otherwise our thinking is limited by a map of small size and little resolution, even to the extent that we become that map - we are our beliefs - and self-awareness is only glimpsed rarely. Then we are in trance, easily influenced and manipulated, and not at all mindful of our options and choices; indeed we do not perceive change is possible.

Since at school we often don't learn to read with full comprehension and insight, and to listen and discuss with open minds, these are skills that are worth developing now in our adulthood, as part of the process of deculturation - breaking free of the bounds of our culture and upbringing - and ongoing self-directed learning that is necessary for personal growth.

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website, producer of the Mind Development website, and author of 'Daring to be Yourself.' He edits and publishes the Inspiring Quotes of the Week and with a team of colleagues has recently launched the amazing Trans4mind Personal Development Training. Get in touch with Peter here.

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