Judgment vs Discernment

13 Jan

I just had the most wonderful visit with an intimate group of family and friends, including my Grandparents Kiki & Ed.

All told, there were 9 of us.  At 37, I’m the baby of the group while the others range from 52 to 86 years of age.  This small crowd is comprised of another natural health practitioner like myself, an engineer, master accountant, ordained minister, doctor and a painter.  The list goes on.  All we need is a candlestick maker!

All of them, world travellers, coming in from recent trips to Machu Picchu, Egypt,  New Zealand, Florida, New Orleans and New Mexico.  And after a short night’s sleep, they’ll all be on their way to the next place on their “bucket list.”

This beloved group is my treasure trove of history, personal experiences and a wealth of hard-won wisdom.  It’s no surprise I like to instigate little conversations that probe into the deeper meanings and interpretations of even the most innocuous subject matter.  This small group is a microcosm of the whole world as each person perceives life in the most unique ways based on everything from upbringing, economy and education to spiritual beliefs and environmental concerns.

So when I quietly posed the question “what do you think is the difference between judgment and discernment?”, the crowd went wild.  Everyone had an opinion and example to share.  While I tucked my feet under me to settle in and listen, another friend simply raised her glass for more wine.

Around the room we went, and story after story shed light on the fact that while discernment may be a form of judgment, they are definitely not the same.

The doctor called discernment an “intuitive judgment” coming from an inner knowingness either through learned experience or a gut feeling.  She perceives judgment as a more clinical way of deducing a matter, saying “judgment is intellectual whereas discernment is more spiritual.”

Of course, there was the common debate over the legalese of judgment and how so many people are attached to judging others that they crave justice to the extreme.  Why else would the legal drama franchise “Law and Order” have lasted 20 years on television, spawning so many popular film and television programs.  People want to see the “bad guy” get what’s coming to him.  It’s obvious, people love justice!

One thing’s for sure, deciding a matter to the point of judging it wisely requires a great deal of understanding and deliberation.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  Mother Theresa

Unfortunately, some folks judge others and circumstances based on nothing more than prejudices and personal opinions based on likes and dislikes.  “I want it to be this way” and “I don’t like that” are frequently judgments made under the guise of “goodness” but are nothing more than selfishness with a halo.  It’s so important we each seek out our inner motivations and there’s no more clear-cut occasion to see our heart’s desires or self-serving motives than when we are standing in judgment of another.

I tend to see judgment as an external evaluation of the world from our personal point of view.  Judgment usually holds some attachment to right and wrong towards something or someone, outside of us.  On the other hand, discernment is an internal decision that we may hold ourselves to but not necessarily others.

Maybe discernment is just a descriptive word for the “to each his own” mentality.  Certainly, in terms of health and well being, there are numerous things that research suggests as good for people across the board but could actually be life-threatening for some.  Not the least of which is all the hype about whole wheat.  According to hard science, you may judge that whole wheat is a healthy source of natural fiber.  However, given enough uncomfortable digestive disturbances, you may discern that you could have some sort of gluten intolerance.  A simple blood test through your Rheumatologist can confirm if you have a wheat allergy which can lead to Celiac Disease.

Your discernment in the face of all the healthy evidence can help you make an informed decision about what is best for you individually.  It helps to remember that while a food allergy may be destructive to your body, the same food may be like medicine for the rest of your family.  In this case, there’s no need to judge by externally discriminating against a group or another person.  Using careful discernment means choosing what is best for you without judging others.

I’m curious, what do you think is the difference between judgment and discernment?

4 Responses to “Judgment vs Discernment”

  1. drhealthy January 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Interesting topic. I know that as an Interior Designer, I must not “judge” anyone’s lifestyle and taste. And even more, as a “healthy-n-green” Interior Designer my motivation to educate my clients about the importance of an interior which promotes wellness and is good for our environment is a balancing act. Some have a thirst for this knowledge – while others feel very judged when given “facts” about indoor air quality, healthy products and environmentally friendly actions.
    I appreciate your article, and realize that anyone who is on the front lines of educating on topics which are personal, they will be challenged with this dance. But,to those who are truly passionate and “spiritually guided” the “message” is the focus, not necessarily how it is taken. As long the message is given with love and in a non-judgemental way, it is up to those who hear it to be open to it or not.


    • Lynn Van Noy January 17, 2011 at 5:28 am #

      It’s true. I could even say that what I say matters not but the vibe & intention matter the most, people will take it as they will. Which is kind of exciting, really. Still, words mean a great deal to me & I love to delve into meaning.

      Also, important to remind the folks you & I work with to not judge themselves too harshly. Thank you for your insight, Dr. Healthy.


  2. Kit January 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    I see judgment as that conclusion to which I have come after time and experience, under the influence of my personal beliefs.
    I see discernment as my ability to know when to share, and when not to *overshare* that judgment 🙂


    • Lynn Van Noy January 17, 2011 at 5:29 am #

      I like it, Kit. Discern another word for discretion? Maybe.


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