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How we judge things

June 23, 2022 - thoughts

I've been thinking recently...

The good, the bad, and the average

Do you ever wonder about how we judge things? By this I mean, let's say we go to a restaurant with a friend. The meal is going well enough, then towards the middle of the meal we try our friend's dish. Wham! It's amazing!

How do we judge the restaurant? Do we say it's just okay because that's how we felt about our meal? Or do we say it's amazing because of the bite we had of our friend's meal?

Say we go watch a movie. The movie is pretty good, but there's this 20 minute section in the last third that just feels like it goes forever. Was the movie good, since we enjoyed the majority of it? Or do we feel the movie was a big let-down because of the drag at its slowest point?

Do we judge something by its best moment, its worst moment, or by its average moment? There's also the question to ask - do we judge something by our experience or by the experience of those around us? - but I'm more interested in our subjective experience for now.

Noticing how we do this for various forms of entertainment, we can also turn our eyes toward how we judge people. People we've just met. People we're friends with. Relationships we're in and how people act in those relationships. Do we judge people by their best moment? Worst moment? Or average moment?

It's not that these are set in stone. For example, in social media perhaps we follow people who we feel on average are entertaining. Maybe some tweets don't makes us laugh, but enough do that we stick around. Let's say something comes out of their past that casts a shadow over them. We may shift from judging their average moment to now judging them by their worst.

What I've wondered for myself is this - do I know what style of judgement I'm choosing? And, is that the appropriate kind of judgement for this situation?

Imagine you have a friend that's generally fun, but sometimes is cruel. If you judge them by their best moments, you might get a sense of them "having such potential" because you see the high points. If you judge them by their average, perhaps you seem them as "a fun person, with a few quirks". If, instead, you judge them by their low moments, you may think "you know, they actually can be pretty mean".

It seems like, in a way, all of these are true at once. It's us, as the judge, who get to say how much weight we put on each type of judgement.


Stories give us another way to see how we view things as they tend to exaggerate some aspect of the human existence. One aspect of some stories is the "redemption arc". Can we see this in the context of the judgement from earlier?

If we judge Darth Vader, we might get three different answers:

By their best moment: a hero! By their average: a pretty bad person By their worst: a monster

Stories like to tug on our emotions by playing against these different feelings, but what about how this translates to how we interact with people in the real world. Are we able to judge correctly if someone has redeemed themselves?

Person or situation

I was recently listening to a podcast, and the speaker mentioned a bit of advice they had gotten: if you are leading a team, do not be afraid to fire people. If working with them is taking energy, and that energy isn't making the product or you stronger, cut them off.

It felt so cold, and yet, there's something decisive about it. They're looking at what is happening and judging not just the person but the situation as a whole. Are things going in the right direction? Even if someone is a star engineer on the team, if the situation shows that their average is that the whole team drags as a result of their actions, then perhaps that judgement is more important than their star contributions?

A personal note

I was raised to give people second chances. To be forgiving. That forgiveness was part of what you did. In hindsight, this seems to be asking us to focus only on the best moments, or perhaps to focus on the average at the expense of the bad. Instead, we should respect all of our judgements of both people and situations we find ourselves in. To weigh them all, so that we understand them, and then act based on all we see without letting ourselves be pre-disposed to any one style.