Prior Bad Acts: How Long Should We Be Judged By Them?

Each of us has done something we later regretted. The question is “How long should we have to pay for our indiscretion?”

Simple Answer

The simple answer is that we should never judge a person (including yourself) or a situation as good or bad, right or wrong? Before you dismiss what I’m saying as outright ridiculous, let me explain the rationale for this statement.

Values perspective

I’m certain that at one time or another, you’ve done something that you later regretted. I know I have. Most of us learned a valuable lesson as a result of that experience. We learned that our action was not in accordance with our values and we didn’t repeat the misstep.

In other words, we returned to consistently living our values. If that’s the case, and it is for the majority of us, then how long should we be judged by our transgression? To the credit of many black Virginians, they have characterized Governor Northam’s black face misstep as youthful folly. They don’t see this misstep as being aligned with the behaviors he’s since demonstrated. In other words they’re not judging him on a prior bad act, but on the preponderance of his behaviors since. In doing so, they’re emphasizing values over a single inappropriate act…of which we are all guilty at one time or another.

Judging transgressions

The answer is never. As I mentioned at the outset, judging another is something we should never do. In part, because we don’t want others judging us. Instead we want them to respect our values and our right to make choices for ourselves. If we truly want that we need to grant the same rights to others.

Another reason for not judging is that it creates bias. Any time I judge another’s actions, words or surmise their intentions, I limit the approaches available to me to find ways of interacting productively with the individual. If I judge someone to be arrogant, I may decide that he’s not open to new ideas and, consequently, avoid sharing an idea that could result in a valuable interaction with the person.

Over the years I’ve discovered that when I’ve ascribed motives to other people’s behaviors, I’m usually wrong. I later discover that what I assumed wasn’t the motivating force behind their actions. Since I’ve stopped judging (making these assumptions), I find that it’s much easier to find common ground for working with the individual.

In those rare instances where their values and mine are significantly disparate, I respect their right to their values while holding firm to mine. And I choose not to work with the individual, which is in both our best interests. When values are too dramatically different, it’s nigh on impossible to produce anything worthwhile. Attempts to “make things work” usually results in frustration and failure for both parties.

For you

Any time that you find yourself forming judgments in a moment of emotional reaction, set that judgment aside. Ask yourself, “Has this behavior continued or is it an isolated instance?” If it isn’t continuing, “Can this single act be an appropriate basis for evaluating whether or not there is an alignment of values between you and the other person?”

Using this approach you’ll find that being able to set aside your emotions and evaluate the person more objectively. This will result in better decisions, both for you and others.

For our kids

Openly comment on your initial reaction to emotionally-charged interactions with others. Then share, the more reasoned evaluation that arises from setting your emotions aside. In doing so, you’ll help the kids in your life become more critical in their thinking which, in turn, helps them avoid being led into the traps being laid by those who use sensationalism, innuendo and rumor as a tool for misleading others.

Neither you, nor your kids, want to be judged on a prior bad act…especially when that isolated act is not representative of the values you and they possess.

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