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Judging Others

The consequences of refusing to judge others - a short interview with Dr. Tara Smith.






































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Movie clip                    

Female:           Ever since I was a little girl, I’d wake up in the middle of the night, afraid of the dark, like the whole house was upside down, and if I didn’t hang onto the mattress I’d fall out into the sky. I wanted to run to you, to have you tell me that I was safe, that everything was all right. But I was always more afraid of you than of falling. It’s the same way now.


Dr. Kenner:      I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner and that is from Inherit the Wind. Listen to her passion. She’s trying to reach her father and she’s trying to finally tell him how she fells about him, and listen to his evasion. He’s pushing it out of awareness. He doesn’t want to feel. He doesn’t want to hear. He’s not open to hearing an evaluation of himself. Today, that’s our topic. We’re talking about justice and I have the wonderful pleasure of having Dr. Tara Smith with me. She’s a specialist in ethics, and she’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, and she currently holds the Anthem Foundation Fellowship. She’s the author of several books, Ayn Rand’s Normative EthicsThe Virtual Egoist – it’s a must-read – Moral Rights and Political Freedom and Viable Values, a study of life as the root and reward of morality. Dr. Smith has published many articles or lectured on topics such as self interest, your interest, objectivity – how to think clearly – business ethics, pride, how to feel good about yourself, justice which is our theme today, forgiveness – we’ll touch on that maybe – and romantic love. Dr. Smith has also presented seminars on clear thinking to businessmen, and welcome to the show Tara.


Dr. Smith:        Great to be here. Thank you.



Dr. Kenner:      When you heard that clip at the beginning from Inherit the Wind, when she’s judging her father, pa, tell me what went through your mind.


Dr. Smith:        Well, it sounded good. I have to say, I wasn’t familiar with the clip. I don’t think I’ve even seen the movie, but I certainly know of it. It sounded like she was trying to very honestly confront feelings, not the most positive feelings, and as you said, he wanted nothing to do with it. He was trying to push it away. Let’s not go there in a second. Let’s not think about that, talk about that, and if we pretend not to know that this was the way you felt in the house, maybe then it won’t have been real.


Dr. Kenner:      So he wants her to fake her own mind. He wants her to fake that he was better than he was.


Dr. Smith:        Yes. Let’s pretend. Let’s have this sort of complicit make believe.


Dr. Kenner:      And if she continues through the rest of her life to pretend, as she did in childhood, that he was better than he was when she was actually terrified of him, what happens to her happiness?


Dr. Smith:        First of all, their relationship, the relationships between those two people is just doomed. I mean, they can’t have a good relationship because they can’t have an honest relationship. He’s obviously – and he’s probably been doing this from the time she was a small child – sending her all the wrong signals about how to deal with life, how to deal with some unpleasant things that come up. That is the message and model he’s conveying is, evade, pretend, ignore.


Dr. Kenner:      Push stuff out of awareness.      


Dr. Smith:        Yes, push them completely out of awareness. Anybody who adopted that policy, even to some extent as she perhaps has for many years and is now kind of breaking through it and confronting him in this way, anybody who has adopted that policy has adopted really a recipe for failure. Because faking things, including faking our own thoughts or faking our own feelings doesn’t change what they are. The thoughts, the feelings, most importantly the facts on the ground as we say, and it’s really only when you get in touch with what the facts are that you are in a position to make good decisions.


Dr. Kenner:      And you can feel powerful emotions, both good and bad. I mean, I see that in therapy all the time, where someone said that, “I’ve been trying to pretend that my son is better than he is. And he isn’t. He’s been lying. He’s been cheating. He’s been mean to the girlfriends he dates, and I’ve been telling myself he’s good all the long.” It’s a very poignant moment to face facts of another person’s character. But there’s also some relief. Now I understand. You’re not at war with reality anymore. 


Dr. Smith:        I think, if I may, we often engage in that sort of pretending to protect ourselves or to protect somebody else, but it’s a very short range, shortsighted kind of protection. For instance, the parents who evade knowledge of a child’s irresponsibility or bad behavior. In the moment, she might feel better, thinking, “Oh, no, he’s really a good boy,” or something like that.


Dr. Kenner:      “He’s just going through a phase. All kids do this. Boys will be boys.”


Dr. Smith:        Exactly. But by trying to make herself feel better now, not even having to entertain these discomforting feelings or thoughts, she’s not addressing the problem, she’s not asking him to address the problem to figure out is her feeling justified or not? So she’s really only abetting the problem and asking for a lot more bad feelings, both her own and her son’s, and perhaps others who have anything to do with him, in the future. To some extent, in a very limited way, I think we can empathize with the person who doesn’t want to feel bad. It’s no fun to feel bad. But that kind of temporary attempt to insulate one’s self now from feeling bad really carries much more destructive consequences long-term, both in terms of feelings and just the facts of someone’s behavior.


Dr. Kenner:      It’s almost like taking a drink of a Valium and you fake reality. It’s like you don’t want to feel, you don’t want to go there, there are facts of reality about my son that I don’t want to know about. Judging other people’s character, why is that important? People tell us to be fair, that we should judge, and I know there’s another camp that tells us not to judge, but we’ll go there in a moment. But why is it important to judge another person’s character?


Dr. Smith:        I think there’s a very simple fact again that gives rise to the need to judge other people’s character, and that is, maybe we can say it’s a two-part fact. Individuals are different from one another. They’re not all equally good or equally honest or equally reliable or equally skilled at certain things or competent or trustworthy or whatever. We are all different and a myriad of ways from one another and even more importantly here, those differences between different individuals carry effect. They carry effects on one’s own well-being. For instance, my happiness, my advancing the things that I really value in life – that depends largely on my actions, but it also is affected by other people’s actions and other people’s character. Therefore, it makes sense for me to be sizing up other people in various respects.


Dr. Kenner:      That’s because they have choice making, right?


Dr. Smith:        Exactly.


Dr. Kenner:      You don’t judge them on things they have no control over, like their height or something else. I mean, you can judge that in not a moral context. 


Dr. Smith:        There are reasons for why you might want to judge, like not as well equipped to be on the basketball team or something if he doesn’t have a certain height or ability. But certainly when you’re judging someone morally – 


Dr. Kenner:      We need to judge our babysitters. We need to judge our romantic partners. When people say, “Judge not and be not judged,” what would you say about that in the last minute?


Dr. Smith:        Well, that is such an aversion of a rational policy of helping one’s own values, one’s own happiness along, and helping that other person as well. But, A, we all do judge, B, we do so because we have to judge.


Dr. Kenner:      And you want that courage to be able to speak it, like that woman had at the beginning. Listen, I’m talking with Dr. Tara Smith. Thank you so much for joining us today. She’s the author of Ayn Rand’s Normative EthicsThe Virtuous Egoist, you can get that at She’s a specialist on rational ethics. Using your mind well to achieve what, Tara?


Dr. Smith:        To achieve your happiness.


Dr. Kenner:      To achieve your happiness, your love of life, your flourishing in life I think you’ve said before. Thank you so much for joining us today.