Tolerance and Judgment

After years of being judged for being judgmental I stumbled upon this phrase by Norman Doidge in his foreword to Jordan Peterson’s ’12 Rules for Life’.

(…) That emphasis on tolerance is so paramount that for many people one of the worst character flaws a person can have is to be ‘judgmental’.

I have not read Peterson’s book, yet. I have of course seen Cathy Newman’s failed career grandstanding Channel 4 interview with him, as well as a few of his YouTube posts, but I can’t comment on ’12 Rules’ and as for Peterson, well, to paraphrase what others have said before me, he is a fierce critic of current authoritarian thinking be it identity politics or postmodernism, and a strong advocate of free speech. And, oh yes, the left hates him. Which means the media hates him, which means you will never know what he really says unless you read his book. Which is what I am going to do.

But back to the foreword, for that’s how far I got. And keeping in mind this is but one phrase. One. But it hit a nerve.

Tolerance and judgment. Having an open mind, being opinionated. A semantic game for some, a serious struggle for others. For a while now, it feels to me as if any intolerance streak is unacceptable and deserves to be severely chastised. By the same token, judgment calls are often seen as antiquated signs of bias and narrow-mindedness. Surely all opinions matter? Surely all sensitivities need to be considered? Surely there is no room for refusal and hierarchy in a setting marked by respect and due regard? Where then is there room to voice one’s opinion? How can we expound our opinions, beliefs and arguments through a prescribed, carefully measured use of ‘should/could it be/perhaps/conceivably?

My judgmental side has often, if not continuously, been the subject of my inner dialogue. But my tolerance hasn’t. Which is what Doidge’s phrase now makes me question.

Let us look at that inner dialogue, or should I say, that verbal freight train that rushes through my brain at every waking moment? Endless, recurrent thought and ideas, fears and desires, that take over my mind, going round and round in an eternal loop. But it does not have to be this way. There are remedies. Sleeping tablets, professional therapy sessions, self-help books and videos and, my remedy of choice, meditation.

Meditation means many things to many people. For some it means asceticism. Others see meditation as a form of relaxation, a chance to zonk out. Some take a moment of meditation to think things through and to order their thoughts. I would define meditation as an exercise in training the mind, with the quality of mindfulness.

Meditation and mindfulness, in their current revival, have been newly defined and packaged. The quiet hall with its buddha statue, a small flower arrangement, the whiff of incense are no more. The lotus position is no longer required and even the closed eyes are now replaced by a soft gaze. Meditation is a craze, mindfulness its trusted acolyte.

People, schools and companies worldwide are riding the M&M wave. The Dalai Lama’s quote ‘If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation we will we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation’ presents many with a good reason to make mindfulness a part of school’s national curriculum. Do they have a point?

Whereas mediation is a practice, mindfulness is a state. In order to be mindful, one needs to attain a level of awareness. It is not enough to state that mindfulness requires ‘being in’ and ‘accepting’ the present. Mindfulness requires a framework. If, as is the case nowadays. we remove meditation and mindfulness from its historical and religious context, we are left with a watered down version of a philosophical value system which risks leaving ancient principles of respect, acceptance, kindness and compassion – but to name a few – at the mercy of popular, generalized, over-simplified, tabloid-style interpretations of morality.

Not allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions does not equal striving to having no thoughts or emotions at all. In the same way, if aversions and preferences feed the illusory nature of our being, any moral stance still commands a certain level of assent and dissent. Which is where our judgment comes in. Never blind, never based on prejudice or untruths, never with the intent to hurt, blame or dominate, any expression of judgment calls for a comprehensive and considerate reflection. The more we learn, the better we understand, the more virtuous our choices will be, the better we will approach the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance.

Re-directing our inner dialogue and allowing for a different kind of questioning of ourselves, others, things, situations, decisions and policies, and, re-evaluating our tolerance levels, might be misconstrued as a call for parochialism and bigotry. I would merely like to not board my train and challenge my forbearance.

Call me judgmental….