One of my kids has picked up a hobby for which he sometimes appears on stage, in film, and on TV. Believe me, it is not something we even knew anything about until our family was suddenly in it, and it is both an interesting and occasionally ridiculous pastime for all of us. One of his brothers is a competitive diver, who has trained thousands of hours to get to a place where he can rip dives at provincial and national competitions, and he may even be presented with scholarship opportunities at some point.
They and we are very happy to have these opportunities, and hopefully enough talent to feel part of the game, but there is also a difficult side to these activities—subjective judgment alone determines how successful they are. Not a clock or a goal or a measuring stick—a human ultimately decides who deserves what. No matter how hard you work and how well you perform, there is no guarantee that everyone will see the performance the same way. And subjectivity is prone to create biased or single-point-of-view judgments, critiques that are narrow and misdirected, and maybe even wrong sometimes!
Professionally, before we even recognize it, we can find ourselves falling onto the path of needing to be uncomfortably judgmental. For instance, when acting as part of the residency selection committee in our division for several years, having also helped choose which fellows we train, comparing and ranking submissions to academic meetings and publications to determine which ones will be accepted, winnowing out who we might hire as colleagues; we judge and judge and judge. And I’m often left thinking that these people have done amazing work, even the ones we don’t end up choosing, and because the majority of them are usually way better than me on paper, I am left thinking, who the heck am I to judge?
And that’s just at work. The world has become so critical and often unapologetically mean, it’s hard to even read what is published sometimes. Anonymity means that online critique, tweets, and blogs can be simply brutal. For example, your doctor rating can be submarined by a solitary unhappy patient, and there is no burden of truth or even discussion allowed. A restaurant can be maligned with a review that never has to be proven. Children affected by gun violence are dragged over the coals publicly for daring to try to create legal change. The same film or play your kid is in can be described as both “must see” and “the worst of the year” in sequential tweets, with the more unsavory one usually appearing higher in the search engine algorithm. Your daughter may find herself being scored in the less-happy column of an uninvited, immature “hot or not” site. Blogger after blogger creates and promotes self-made critique sites, and tries to one-up their competition with edginess. And who the heck are these people to judge?
We have become a world where unfiltered self-described judges are flourishing—all of us are capable of changing the direction of someone’s life or career. And all of us are also then fully vulnerable to being judged.
When we absolutely do have to make a call or criticism, we should be reminded that we should keep things real and fair and transparent. “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” No one really knows who first said that about how we speak our mind, but it would sure be a nicer world if people took it to heart.