The Non-judgmental Practitioner

Thoreau famously stated, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

In discerning about how to write this blog – in my reflections and prayers (yes, I pray – or at least try to) – I have thought hard about how to describe being non-judgmental without coming across as, well, judgmental.

Rabbi Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers is quoted as saying, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.” In the 7th Chapter of the Matthew in the New Testament it reads, “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Am I suggesting you have to be religious or spiritual to understand judgment and the importance of non-judgment? No. I just happen to think these particular pieces provide guidance to me on how I think about how to be a non-judgmental practitioner.

Am I willing to accept that how homeless (or formerly homeless) people in my community live their lives is not something that I can or should judge? Or do my own values influence how I see the issue? Can I frame my thinking from an ethical standpoint (rules within a specific context to determine what is right or wrong)? Or do my morals override (how things should work or be understood as right or wrong based upon my individual ideals)?

Some examples…

  • You live an abstinent lifestyle but have service participants that use alcohol and other drugs. Your own morals may suggest abstinence is best – perhaps because of your own personal experience or religious beliefs.
  • You are personally against abortion and believe that life starts at conception. The laws of the land indicate that abortion is legal, and you may have female clients that are seeking assistance with knowing the whereabouts of an abortion clinic.
  • You believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Yet unmarried clients you are supporting may be seeking condoms to prevent disease or pregnancy.
  • You are against corporal punishment. However, it remains legal in domestic/home settings where you live. You see parents spanking or hand-slapping their children after the child has done something wrong.

See my point?

I have come to accept that I am remarkably flawed human being. I have so many faults that I am on the precipice of being perfectly imperfect. Do I want to be judged? Goodness knows I judge myself plenty. I don’t need someone else doing it too. I know the areas of my life that I suck at…some are a work in progress, some are on the to-do list, and others are on the “I have accepted it will always be there and now let’s move on” list.

But it isn’t because I have an exhaustive list of defects that I cannot and will not judge others.

It is because I have learned to accept that the people I serve will be different than me. This makes them no better or worse – just different. There are laws and due processes that we, as a society, have put into place to deal with the bigger stuff like murder and abuse and victimization and exploitation. The other stuff? Unless I am ready to hold a mirror shoulder high and say it to myself (gulp) I am certainly not in a position to pass any commentary on others. I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes nor can I point out the sawdust in their eye when there is a log in my own. Or from the wisdom of Thoreau, am I willing to see all the strengths and opportunities within the person, or is what I see only the defects and shortcomings and past mistakes? Guess it depends on what I see. I hope to see the good in everyone.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

3 Responses to “The Non-judgmental Practitioner”

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  1. Scotti Coles says:

    From one remarkably flawed human being to another, great job on this blog.

    I always enjoy reading your writings! I agree, having a non-judgmental approach in the way we do life with others, whether as service providers, fathers, husbands, friends etc.
    We can learn so much when we adopt the empathic “have you walked a mile in their shoes?” conviction.

    Kudos Iain!!

  2. Mattie says:

    I so appreciated this. In this line of work, we are fairly consistently faced with staff, donors, media, policymakers, etc. judging the past, present, and future decisions of people experiencing homelessness. And yet none of them have any idea how they would respond to similar circumstances.
    “If we could look into each other’s hearts, and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.” – Marvin J. Ashton

    Thank you, Iain. Your blog is a solid way to start the week.

  3. Paul Behler says:

    As a contributor to the Baltimore re-write of “The Journey Home”, I have followed you and advocated with you here in this “old and new school town”!!! I am also sorry that You and Dr. John have parted ways but, maybe the message can and will be stronger from two fronts. Iain you are just as flawed as all of us in this world and that is one judging another (and it’s OK to judge (in the mind) just not, pass judgement upon!!!)!!! Your words and my mind as well as my words and your mind work on similar paths. Yes we are not perfect but, as I learned from my father when I was but 5 ” If you shut up and listen to the world around you, it knows everything and you do not know shit; you are just 5!!!” If we as individuals can adopt that attitude and use it as a child for as long as we breath; we will learn each and every day, we will be better able to help others from what we hear, and learn, and find that in practice works!!!! Take your flaws and grow the other side of them into positives so that we all can learn from the mistakes of each other. “So shall we all pray”!!!!