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# 22 / 40 – July 2007


Discernment vs. Judgment

Being a sentient creature, I notice and am aware of what is happening in the world around me. Outside of poking out my eyes or stuffing my ears with cotton, this attention and discernment of the world is not something that I can control.

Similarly, my internal condition – my moods, the running dialogue in my mind, as well as the feelings I experience: like anger, joy, frustration and loneliness – is simply an observable state of mind. It’s not really in my control if I perceive these things.

Our discernment of our external and internal worlds is not something that we actively control. On the other hand, I believe that we can manage to control (at least to some extent) our judgment of our experiences.

Let’s say a fly has entered my office. I notice it. This is discernment.

If I criticize myself for having created the situation by leaving the window open that allowed the fly in, I have entered into judgment.

Discernment is a natural act that we engage in without planning or conscious thought.

Judgment is optional.


Because our behavior is influenced not only by our conscious will but also by our habits, our judgment is only somewhat controllable. In much the same way it requires effort to not look up when someone says my name, if I am accustomed to cursing like a maniac when I see a fly, changing this pattern of behavior will be difficult. That said, the first step of changing a habit is, of course, discernment – noticing that I am doing it. (F.Y.I., this is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy.)

Discernment – what I notice – is not in my control.

Judgment – what I do with what I notice – is in my   

To discern the world as it is – with me, my emotions, and my mood as a part of that world – this is something I do automatically and will probably continue to do until the day I die.

On the other hand, judgment – something that I do frequently, something that I occasionally get a little rush from doing, and something that I can sometimes discern that I am doing while I’m doing it – is optional.

I pray we all ease up on ourselves and the world, and judge less.


With love,

Rabbi Brian

If you care to, click here to see this post on the StreetProphets site, where it went up last week and received some comments.

A web version of this article is available here.

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