The Judge

Sometimes it feels like we are in a constant courtroom: We, all of us, constantly judge other people. And I mean, constantly. The person you see on TV, the person that walks by you on the street, the person that comes to your door when you get a delivery. The judging can be based on all sorts of things: How they look, smell, walk, sit, or do something, what they say, what they believe, who they love. It usually doesn't even happen consciously, it is something you do automatically.

Judging is not always a bad thing, but we judge people too much and too soon. In the past month or so, I've been consciously looking at when and how I judge, and I was shocked at how often I do it, sometimes based on, well, nothing special. A quote I hear on the news, a tweet. Yes, even - sometimes - on how they look. I was shocked.

The effect on the people being judged can be horrible. It can make people insecure, it can create an atmosphere of hostility, it creates a society or community in which we don't dare ask, or even show our vulnerable side.

In The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer talks about her time as a living statue in the streets of Boston. About how she found out that she could earn a stable living being a living statue. And it isn't just about standing there, she actually created a connection. Her goal was to create a connection between her as a statue and the people giving her money. But then people shout at her "get a job!" as if being a living statue isn't a real job. Those people judged her, without even knowing her and why she was doing this. They simply discarded the possibility of this being a real job while for her, it was a real job.


Last week, I was chatting to a friend. We were talking about, well, life, work, etc. At some point, it was clear something was bothering him, and he didn't dare ask for help. He was honest and told me he was afraid that I would judge him. Of course, he didn't know I had so consciously been observing my own judgements of others. Especially with friends though, especially when they ask for help, I do not judge. I do not want to judge. Because asking for help is a big step. Big enough for me to know that - apparently - help is necessary. And if I can help, I will. Without judgement. Eventually, the question was asked, and I helped. Problem solved.

Some time ago, I wrote:

Asking is easy if you just do it. Once you start thinking about it, it becomes hard.

I didn't really go into why it was hard once you start thinking about it. I guess it mostly has to do with judgement. You are afraid the person you ask for help will judge you, will think you are stupid, will think that you acted stupid, will think you are weak.

We miss information

The worst thing is: we miss information when we make useless judgements. Usually, they are made based on assumptions. They believe in God? Why are they so stupid! They believe in Allah? They must support violence. They vote for the right-wing populist party? They must be racist. They are fat? They must eat bad. They use PHP? They are not real programmers. A woman? She must be the front-end developer or designer. A conference with mostly male speakers? They must not have made an effort to get in female speakers. That guy stole something? Such a stupid criminal.

It is easy to judge people, but perhaps if you knew more about the situation, you wouldn't jump to conclusions that quickly: Perhaps the guy that stole something did so because he has a hungry kid at home and recently lost his job. Perhaps stealing something was his last, desperate attempt at taking care of his kid. Perhaps the person voting for the right-wing populist party does so because they disagree with the economic policy of your government, and no other party has a strong opinion against that policy. Perhaps the fat person is simply ill.

The effect

The effect of my conscious effort to look at my judgement and trying to do less of it is interesting. I feel like I am more open to other people and to their ways of seeing things. I also experience less negativity. You usually judge other people because you do not agree with them based on the limited information you have, which usually leads to a verdict: They are not cool, they did not do what they should have done, they are stupid, they are worthless, they live an unhealthy life, their belief is stupid, they are sinners. Do you see what all these verdicts have in common? Negativity. Trying to reduce the useless judgements has surely reduced the negativity in my head and in my life. What do I gain from judging the person on TV? Nothing. At all.


Our community, the PHP community, has been becoming less and less friendly. We seem to judge more these days, and be very vocal about it. It splits us up into groups, smaller groups of likeminded people. And that is a shame. Sure, we've had framework "wars", CMS "wars", etc, but most of that was more like a bunch of joking between friends. These days, once we disagree with eachother, sometimes it goes much further than joking.

It can be different. Since "finding" Amanda Palmer last year, I've been getting more and more impressed with her community. Of course, Palmer is very vocal about welcoming everyone and spreading love and joy, so the people that are her fan are more likely to take that up, but I'm so impressed with it all. It feels so much more friendly and welcoming. And people are actually willing to share their fears, their loss, their personal stories. People accept everyone for who they are, and support them when they need it.

I think we, the PHP community, should try and be more like that. Judge less, and be more open and welcoming. If we do that, and don't judge the next woman, man, gay person, vegetarian, rabbi, junior developer, WordPress developer, broke person, left-wing voter, right-wing voter, non-voter, anarchist, rapper, grumpy person, etc then I believe we will be a more diverse community. You will feel better because you have less negativity in your life, and the other person will also feel better, because they will feel welcome, not feel judged. It is a small change in your mindset. Not an easy one, but not a big one either.