Thursday, July 7, 2011

Here Comes the Judge

I remember after the Tuscon shootings President Obama gave a speech in which he pleaded with Americans:

Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

And I remember thinking, "That doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. Wouldn't it be easier to just point fingers and name call?"

Because the thing is, when it comes to judging other people, not only do I really enjoy it -- I happen to be awfully good at it.

My sister and I had a game we used to play at weddings. The game was called, "Who's Luckier?"

Basically the way it worked was this: we would assess the bride and groom and then try to make a determination as to who was getting a better deal out of the union. 

A balding paunchy groom with money weds a struggling beautiful actress without two dimes to rub together?

She's luckier!

A decent looking groom with an annoying voice who chooses a woman whose parents have an awesome vacation home upstate?

He's luckier!

If there were a significant enough number of complicating factors these discussions could truly go on for hours.

But as is true with all truly delightful pastimes, I learned quickly that the game of "Who's Luckier?" had a fairly significant downside. This was because I found myself playing the game in relation to my own potential spouses. I'd start dating a guy and I'd quickly begin to obsess on which one of us our wedding guests would think was luckier. 

If I dated someone handsome, I would worry that upon our marriage, our guests would sit there staring at us with derision and muttering to themselves, "She's MUCH luckier." If I dated someone broke I would imagine them all shaking their heads and whispering back and forth, "I guess he's luckier."

As it turns out, this sort of thinking was not particularly conducive to finding a good life mate.

Eventually, I did get married. And I was luckier. But even more amazingly, it appeared that my husband believed himself to be the lucky one. The whole experience made me realize that when it comes to something as complicated as two people choosing whom to partner with for life, there are such a variety of factors that go into the decision that it simply isn't possible for two spectators sitting in white rented chairs to properly adjudicate which member of said couple is, in fact, luckier.

And so, it was that the game came to an end.

Now, several years later, I find myself remembering this lesson when it comes to dealing with my fellow moms. I think of all the times when I have sat back watching another mom struggle with her child and allowed myself a delicious moment of smug superiority. 

*wistful sigh* 

But I've been at this long enough to know that it won't be long after such an indulgence that I find myself dragging a screaming, sand-throwing toddler from the playground, my back bent under the withering stares of the gathered mommies. 

So I am making an attempt at being more generous of spirit. I'm trying to remember that when I see a mom struggling with her kiddos that I may have just missed another moment where she was performing at the top of her game. I'm working to offer my fellow moms a supportive smile or encouraging word in lieu of my preferred righteous glare of indignation when I come upon one of them having a hard time.

And although there are days that this is really, really hard - it remains the undeniable better choice.

Speaking to my father (a former prosecutor) yesterday I brought up the jury in the Casey Anthony case. "How could they be so moronic?"  I cried. "What is wrong with those people?"  I demanded.

My Dad paused for a moment and then responded, 

"Nothing is easier than finding someone guilty when you're not the one in the jury box."

And I think he may be right.


  1. Last week, before I decided I had to write my post from today about doorknobs and such, I was writing a post in my head about how judgmental I can be, and I chickened out because the idea was to list some of the ways I judge people (namely other mothers, very much in the 'smug' way you describe), and I thought, oh, my audience will hate me. And then you kind of did it, and I love it.

  2. Ha! I was wary of using specific examples for just that reason but if there is one among us who has not looked down their nose at a fellow mommy then I say let them cast the first stone!

  3. Well put. I was thinking this myself as I've been a juror and it's harder than it looks. No one else was there for the whole trial. It's not our job to judge.

  4. Totally agree. I can't believe how many people think they know better than the jurors because they have absorbed the constant media coverage for the last 3 years (media coverage which - as it turns out - is not evidence!). Very well said, Meg. Love this entry and a great reminder that we should all keep our "judgey pants" in check!

  5. It's oh so hard... one of the goals I made for this year was to be less judgmental. (See what I did there? 'Less'. I have an out. ;-)) I've really been trying though. Now I find myself getting annoyed with other people who make snide remarks about other people's parenting... because who knows what's really going on? Maybe they have a special needs child. As if those judging parents *never* have a bad day in public... pfft. Although if you tell your kid to 'shut the eff up' in a public place, I may have some stabby thoughts. ;-) I have a much harder time overlooking peoples food and media choices when it comes to their kids, so I have to work on that.

  6. @haggardmom - I totally agree that there are things that I still judge. And there are times when it is appropriate to use our "frown power" (as my sister calls it) when people are actually behaving badly. It is all a work in progress, I suppose.

    @suburbansnapshots - I'd still love to read a blog post from you on this topic!

  7. yep, the best working marriages are ones where each spouses thinks they are luckier. sooooo....who'd you think was luckier at my wedding?! :)

  8. bravo. well said and perfect closer. your getting a loud, "WORD." from me in PA.

  9. Great post. I was just reading a link on Facebook that one of my 20-something, non-kid-having friends posted about rambunctious kids ruining other people's good times at restaurants and even grocery stores. She and her friends commented about how parents need to put their kids in check, blah blah blah. I had to bite my tongue because you really don't know how hard it is until you have one of those rambunctious tots. I'm definitely less judging of other parents now.

    And yeah, I see where your dad is coming from with the Casey Anthony trial. Way too much reasonable doubt -- I'd hate to be one of those jurors.

  10. Lol... my 'frown power' must be broken. Never seems to work. ;-)

  11. Clearly you've invented a way to make weddings more fun. I do try my hardest not to judge the other moms. Mostly I just feel relief that it isn't my kid and I feel sorry for her.

  12. The first impression I've felt when I read the top of this post was like, ugh another political issues.. But then when I'm along the way reading it I find it interesting and yes we must not judge everybody by their appearance or what they have done. Nice post!