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Opinionated or Judgmental? It's a Fine Line

September 09, 2016 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

"Does she have a thyroid problem?" Two women looking at a photo of an obese relative. 

"Have you talked to your doctor about portion control?" A mother says this to her daughter as she eyes her up and down. 

"How can you not go to the wedding (when you're almost related)?

"How can you be invited to a shower when you're not invited to the wedding?" A friend makes both statements to her friend on the phone. Some friend. 

"You spend so much more on clothing than I do. I would never buy that at that store." Sister says this to her sister who is modeling the latest dress she purchased for a fundraising event. Some sister! 

"You have to spend the equivalent of the wedding meal on a gift." An older relative says to her younger niece while shopping. 

The questions...and judgments...go on and on, turning in our heads like a merry-go-round and making us feel terrible about ourselves, actions, and those we care about. 

Of course, we let the folks who shovel out such digs do the damage. We could brush them off like lint on a black sweater, but we find it hard. We're sensitive and the comments stick. We know we could also reply--and sometimes we have, but usually we remain quiet or get defensive. A lot depends on our mood and the exact circumstances of how and when “the comment” is made. 

When a family member asked another about the heavyset young relative, the one responding said nothing. She could have replied,

"No, she doesn't have a thyroid problem! She's heavy, but she looks happy!" 

To the mother critiquing her daughter’s weight,  "Mother, this isn't the time or place to discuss my portions, and this is something I don't care to speak about." 

These all beg the question, when did people--family and friends--decide they have the right to speak up so bluntly when they're not asked for their opinion or judgment? And what’s the difference between opinion and judgment? In our parlance, opinion is how you feel about something when asked; judgment is when it’s unsolicited and personal. 

So, why is judgment so rampant? Is it a result of many more becoming a tad narcissistic--not in a clinical-sense, but just as a part of our sharing economy. We share our judgments, too. Is there greater outspokenness among those we know? Is it about our getting older, and as we saw with elderly family members, losing our filters as we age? Or, as with so many things today including inclusion --admitting to depression and getting help, coming out as gay or transgender---are we simply becoming more aware of these types of conversations? 

At times, we seek an opinion: "Does my hair look better this way or a tad shorter?" "Do you like this color I'm considering painting my living and dining rooms?" Or, even, "What about this guy I've been dating? Do you like him, really, really like him?" 

We think it's time to call a truce, and recognize this type of conversational chatter for what it is...and isn't. Opinionated is great when it’s elicited and comes from an honest thoughtfulness or reaction and isn’t meant to wound the other person. 

Here's an example. When you're engaged in a conversation about the current, heated Presidential election, and the other person wants your opinion about Hillary you might say: "I think her experience in elected office makes her a more knowledgeable Presidential candidate than Trump." That's fine and respectful. And it’s what you think. You aren’t attacking the other person’s views. 

Your comment becomes judgmental if you rephrase and say--when you know the other person likes Trump: "Hillary is the only suitable candidate. Moreover, I can't believe YOU think Trump would make a good President. Have you lost your mind? Are you that dumb and deaf to what he says and does?" You may think that--and you may be right, but it doesn't lead to an intelligent shared conversation, and will result in the door being shut on the relationship temporarily or sometimes irrevocably. 

If you're talking with a fellow Hillary fan, speak your opinions and judgments freely. At least you’re both on the same page.

In general, we're trying to avoid making judgments unless asked--and if we are asked we want to be kind. "I think the solid black dress is more flattering than the striped one," is kinder than adding, "That horizontally-striped dress really accentuates the fact that you've gained (so much) weight." 

Life is tough enough, and friends are supposed to be on our side, to make us feel good about ourselves unless we do terrible deeds--and then how terrible? In the worst cases, it may be okay to be honestly judgmental but keep the conversation flowing. Otherwise, the silence can be a nail in the coffin—of a friendship. 

What do you think?

Buy our book at https://www.amazon.com/Suddenly-Single-After-Girlfriends-Navigating/dp/1442256524/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472082236&sr=1-1&keywords=suddenly+single+after+50




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