Instinct Or Judgment?

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How do we follow our instincts without judging? This was my question to Danny when commenting on a fantastic post of his. I would love to hear your five cents on this question but before we get there let me explain myself a little bit more.

I had a busy weekend last weekend. On my way back from work I shared my train ride with a college of mine for a while and was actually really happy to have a male companion when a guy hopped on the train right after we did. It was just the way he looked. The guy found a seat, on the right side of us, in the row behind us.

Shortly after the train left the station a woman entered the wagon. She seemed a bit off and although clean and okay dressed you could make out that she must have her issues (and there is the second judgmental thought I had on that short train ride). Anyway. She approached the guy who was sitting behind us. I couldn’t really hear what she was asking but I could see our of the corner of my eyes that he was gently shaking his head and apologizing. She then approached us and asked for change. I had no cash on me and told her so and watched her make her way through the rest of the wagon, asking one after the other with no success.

While looking around I realized that the guy I judged in the very beginning was reading a Hemingway book. Just a little observation.

Anyway. A little bit later the woman comes back into our wagon and again approaches passenger after passenger until she reached us. This time she did not simply ask for chash but “for change so I can buy formula for my step son who is starving and crying his heart out”. I still had no cash on my but I had a sandwich on me that I bought before taking the train. I told her again that I don’t have cash and asked her if she is hungry. She started telling me the story about the baby and the formula again. I sort of interrupted her by saying that I can’t help her as I have no cash but that I would be happy to give her my sandwich and handed it to her. She stopped in the middle of her sentence took the sandwich and said thank you. She started eating and disappeared.

My college just looked at me. It was the guy who I’d judged before who suddenly said to me how nice it was of me to offer her something to eat. He then told me that he takes this train often and that she would frequently be on it too, asking for change. He also told me that she is a regular at the local drug addiction help center.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this long intro. Honestly I don’t really know yet either as I still try to figure out the question I posed in the beginning of this post. How do we follow our instincts without judging?

I judged. I judged the guy who did look as if he was a drug addict. I judged the woman who clearly had issues. I believe I judged because my instincts told me to be careful. It turned out to be all good. But sometimes situations like this don’t end peacefully. So how do we deal with this fine line between following our instincts and not becoming judgmental? I feel I’m the most judgmental with people I get a bad feeling from. When I think they are not honest. When I have the strong feeling that they have an agenda.

I don’t want to be judgmental but I want to be safe. In many ways. I want to be safe in the sense of not getting physically hurt. I want to be safe in the sense of not being taken advantage of. So I need to make a judgment call. I need to make a decision about trusting someone or not although I have no information about this person and can’t fall back on anything to make this decision.

I guess the question will always be if we judge because we are jealous or bitter or if we judge because it’s about “surviving”. One is about labeling someone or something while the other one is about making sure we don’t get hurt, so more about following our instincts and actually listening to them.

A fine line, that, as it seems, can be crossed easily…

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37 thoughts on “Instinct Or Judgment?

  1. It is our nature to protect ourselves. Now a lot depends on influence and reflexive thoughts and emotions connected to former experiences or what we were told and taught. I think the line between judging and gut feeling is very thin and sometimes we cannot divide both. But experiences like yours might change the programming in the mind which affects and distorts the gut feeling! It is another learning process…

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  2. Very true. It’s a tough one. You took the time to think through your emotions before you took action. Thinking about others is so rare these days. Judgement as a defense mechanism is an interesting point. It makes sense. A gut feeling is an internal alarm we should pay attention to at all times.

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  3. Go with your gut. I think to some degree it is human nature to discern and judge for protection. In the world today, unfortunately, I think the instinct should be followed first and then thought about later. You handled the situation beautifully!

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  4. I think trusting your instinct first is always wise, you can change your mind later, no harm done. However, if your gut clouds your judgement and causes you to react or behave in an unseemly fashion then you’ve allowed it to fail you. Doing as you did and studying your environment was the wise move. Keep in mind, we are all preconditioned by our environment. Personal experience can and will set and establish certain ideas that can effect instinct, so don’t be quick to discard it for “political correctness” sake. Instinct is there to protect us, so to dismiss it would be foolhardy.

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      • I’m guessing that you will know intuitively know what to tell your children. But I’m guessing that they will see your actions and learn more that way than you will ever do by telling them anything. You seem kind, compassionate and sensible; period. I’m sure that will rub off on them. And I find with most kids that we often don’t give them the credit due for the connection that they have with their intuition; unless it has been altered by societal conditioning. We can often over complicate situations with complex explanations.
        You seem to have a balance that serves yourself and others well.
        You care about yourself and others…that is clear, and that is why you dont seem to have any real conflict in your actions. Children learn what they live. You set a good example.

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      • Thank you so very much. That makes me so happy to hear. I hope you are right and my children see this and learn from it too. I do want them to be safe and I encourage them to listen to their gut feeling but also be kind.

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  5. It is certainly a fine line. Maybe with these situations, it’s not so much about judging than it is the natural instinct of distrust or concern. I can see two people who look disheveled or questionable, but only one may stir up concern within me. It’s all about a person’s aura. Some people instantly give off a bad feeling whereas others who look and act the same do not. It’s important to be cautious and to pay attention to those instincts. Better safe than sorry.

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  6. I think it very much depends on the situation for me. I feel sorry for homeless people or those asking for change, but I do my best not to look at their appearance and take in more their actions. One guy at the store near us was standing close to our van when we got out and I was cautious but tried not to make any snap judgments. He also seemed very soft spoken. When we came out, he asked for change and said he was trying to get $4 and I guess he was close to doing so. It was hard to make out the rest of his words. My mom gave him all the change she had. While she was in the van getting the change, he kept a close but respectful distance, standing in the flowerbed near a tree instead of being closer. Then after he got the change from her, he said thank you and walked away. He knelt down on his knees and I’m pretty certain he was praying. Then he went into the grocery store.

    I do my best to observe people’s actions, whether their appearance is “good” or their appearance gives me in the impression that I need to be cautious. However, I think anyone with a kind and good heart, such as you and I and many other people, we still want to keep ourselves safe so we may be cautious and a bit “judgmental.” I believe that taking in others’ appearances or our surroundings is how we instinctively survive.

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    • Well said. You and also Me – Who Am I? have a good point. It’s all about the aura someone has. It’s what we pick up and it either makes us feel unsafe or safe (or okay). As long as we act accordingly we should be fine.

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  7. I think there is also a difference between judging and being cautious. For example, if I go to the store late at night and a male is hanging outside of the store, I am not judging him but I am cautious of him. You have to have slight caution in situations because it keeps us alert.

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    • There have even been females or a female with a male who spread out, that give the appearance they are surrounding you. That can be scary even if nothing ever happens. I had that happen once but I pretended I was okay with it and engaged them in a conversation while facing both of them so that my back was never to them. I had stopped to walk my dog off the highway near farmland and there was no one around. I decided I’d never do that again. But I will admit I was frightened. They were “friendly” but looked wild looking. There was a third person that I had to keep and eye on as well, but I made it to the car and took off. My dog isn’t big but he isn’t friendly so I was glad to have him.

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  8. ooooh…that’s quite a subject to tackle. There’s a fine line always.. I believe while instinct and gut-feel are often accurate (almost!), there’s also a judging element in there. One or the other takes over depending on the situation; I guess it’s first having to access the situation. Probably a better word than “judging””?

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