Perhaps the most thought-provoking section of Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen is the section on judgment, in which she says:

Judgment does not only take the form of criticism. Approval is also a form of judgment. When we approve of people, we sit in judgment of them as surely as when we criticize them.

Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways.

Like all judgment, approval encourages a constant striving. It makes us uncertain of who we are and of our true value. This is as true of the approval we give ourselves as it is of the approval we offer others.

Approval can’t be trusted. It can be withdrawn at any time no matter what our track record has been. It is as nourishing of real growth as cotton candy. Yet many of us spend our lives pursuing it.

It had never occurred to me before that approval is a form of judgment just like criticism. Since reading that I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we trade wholeness for approval.

Because I’m self-employed and don’t have a boss or co-workers there have been times when I have been desperate for someone to tell me what to do, especially when I was first starting out.

Even today, now that I have a track record and have written successfully for dozens of clients, I feel a deep sense of dread at times when I submit a draft to a first time client. I marinate in anxiety about what they will think and avoid checking email for hours because my client’s approval matters too much to me.

Yesterday I asked a colleague for some advice but before doing so I paused and made sure that what I was asking for was advice and not approval. It’s important to know the difference between the two.

This colleague has more knowledge about the topic I needed information about than I do and he alerted me to a fact that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. As a result my marketing campaign will be more successful as a result.

So advice is cool. Approval… not so much.

I also thought about this when my daughter’s teacher asked me to write down a couple of goals I have for my daughter prior to parent teacher conferences.

I didn’t want to encourage a constant striving on her part. She has to choose her own goals so I wrote down my “goals” for her with this in mind. They weren’t really goals, but just affirmations that encourage her to be herself. My “goal” was to make her smile as she read them and I accomplished that.

Dr. Remen ends her section on judgment with wise words that, as a middle-aged person, I appreciate:

But judgment may heal over time. One of the blessings of growing older is the discovery that many of the things I once believed to be my shortcomings have turned out in the long run to be my strengths, and other things of which I was unduly proud have revealed themselves in the end to be among my shortcomings…

What a blessing it is to outlive your self-judgments and harvest your failures.

A blessing indeed.


Filed under: Kitchen Table Wisdom (the book)


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