Discerning and Judging

Don’t always believe what you think

In my classrooms, on either side of the board, there were always two little figures that I had cut out of paper. The letter “D” was written on one, and the letter “J” was written on the other. These two little paper-doll cutouts silently observed the class until, one day, invariably, someone would ask about them.

“Hey, Mr. Rabbi, what’s with the D and the J?”
“Oh, I haven’t told you about discernment and judgment?”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Ah, discernment and judgment; let me explain…it’s one of my favorite wisdom biscuits.”
“Yum-yummy.”

(I trained all my classes to say, “Yum-yummy” after I said the words wisdom biscuits.)

Discernment is what you notice, what you sense, what you see, what you hear, what you feel.
Judgment is your opinion of what you sensed.

Picture2For example, discernment is what leads you to notice the high-pitched noise in the background of some of my old podcasts. Judgment is the story you might have associated with it. The discernment is that you sense it. The judgment is what you think about the thing you noticed. For example, when hearing it, you might have thought, “Rabbi Brian’s work used to be much sloppier,” “Rabbi Brian’s doesn’t seem to be annoyed by high-pitched noises,” or “I wonder if Rabbi Brian was trying to teach some lesson with that squeak.”

The discernment happens first. The judgment comes next.

We must first work on our ability to identify what is discernment and what is judgement. Then we can work on lengthening the space between the two. This twin process leads us to a healthier spiritual-religious life.

There is a quote by Haruki Murakami about pain and suffering that my friend Nagy shared with me. “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” There is physical pain, which you notice, but the story and the judgment you have about it are up to you.

What do you notice, right now? What do you notice around you? What thoughts are you having right at this moment?

Those are discernments – your observations.

What stories are you are telling yourself about those things that you notice?

Those are your judgements – your opinions.

Let’s try an example:

You see somebody with a new haircut. Is that discernment or judgement? A change has occurred – you sense something is new, different. (That is discernment.)

You think about the person with the new haircut: “I like it.” “They look horrible.” “They are awesome.” That is judgement.

A harder example:

You think, “I oughtn’t judge people so much.” Is that discernment or judgement? Noticing that you are judging is a discernment. Judging yourself for so doing is a judgement.

We have control over one part of this. (And it’s not the discernment part.) We cannot force what we sense. We can only control our judgment. It takes some work, but it’s worth it.

The better we learn to differentiate between our judgments and our discernments, the clearer understanding we will have of this world.

#wisdom_biscuit: notice what you notice and don’t believe everything you think.

Few problems are solved by an email your in-box.


This is an exception.

40 curiosity-satisfying, soul-nuturing messages (with a little spunk) from Rabbi Brian. Raw, honest, vulnerable reflections on faith/religion/spirituality. Without being dogmatic, pompous, or woo-woo. Or overly Jewy-McJewish.

Plus $130-savings on $180 patience mini-course.

Wonderful! You did it. Look for an email soon! (Unless you want to work on your patience, of course.)