Observations and judgments

In his book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg points out our tendency to make moralistic judgments as a matter of course, in both our thinking and our speech. He distinguishes value judgments (things we’ve considered and hold to be of value) from moralistic judgments, which we apply to others who don’t seem to share our values (or sometimes our habits, assumptions, history or context).

This is the beginning of “violent” communication: when we don’t realize that we are condemning or dismissing others with our initial responses to them.

From NVC:
Thus if my partner wants more affection than I’m giving her, she is “needy and dependent.” But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is “aloof and insensitive.” If my colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is “picky and compulsive.” On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is “sloppy and disorganized.”

Also from NVC:
At the root of much, if not all, violence — whether verbal, psychological, or physical, whether among family members, tribes, or nations — is a kind of thinking that attributes the cause of conflict to wrongness in one’s adversaries, and a corresponding inability to think of oneself or others in terms of vulnerability — that is, what one might be feeling, fearing, yearning for, missing, etc.

We do this sort of judgmental thinking at least sometimes, and most often when we do, we use it to distinguish and separate ourselves from others in a very primitive “me good, him bad” way. How can we start to undo the hold this habit has on us?

It’s not easy, but it begins with recognizing when we are making observations and when we are making moralistic judgments.

From NVC:
Example 1: “You are too generous” vs. “When I see you give all your lunch money to others, I think you are being too generous.”

Example 2: “If you don’t eat balanced meals, your health will be impaired.” vs. “If you don’t eat balanced meals, I fear your health may be impaired.”

Example 3: “Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.” vs. “Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.”

You get the idea. Sometimes we are just lazy and find it more comfortable to think in simplistic, moralistic terms. But we can become better communicators, and better people, if we know when we’re making unnecessary judgments and when we’re making factual observations.

The factors of the eight-fold path are:

1. Right View (of the ownership of action)
2. Right Intention (renunciation, goodwill, harmlessness)
3. Right Speech (truthful, harmonious, gentle, meaningful)
4. Right Action (non-harming, non-taking, good conduct in sensual matters)
5. Right Livelihood (legal, peaceful, honest, non-harming)
6. Right Effort (abandon the unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome)
7. Right Mindfulness (body, feeling, mind-states, dhammas)
8. Right Concentration (the four jhanas)

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Filed under Speech, The 8-fold path

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