I’ve been writing a lot lately about talking up and using your voice wisely. This week, I’ve read a number of social media posts and the resulting commentary with a very heavy heart. We are living through unprecedented times, with so much loss and devastation. We could all do with massive doses of empathy and tolerance. Yet, I am seeing so much harsh judgement, aggression and passive aggression. Of course there are many, many posts that display the values of inclusivity, tolerance, respect and discernment. It is the many that don’t that have prompted me to write about a concept very close to my heart… It is the difference between discernment and judgement and how we can practise the former and why we should avoid the latter and take Key Steps to…
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
  1. What is the difference between judging and discerning? Discernment may seem like judgment, but the difference between these two approaches is significant. In fact, they are not the same at all.The word “judge” comes from the Greek “katakrino” meaning “to judge against” or “condemn.” Judgement is defined as “an opinion or estimate, criticism or censure, power of comparing or deciding.” Judgment implies a power difference and feeds the ego’s deception of being better (or worse) than someone or something else. Judgment assumes that the person judging has the power and right to determine what is good or bad in general, not just from their point of view. Judgment also has a sense of finality, like a sentence being passed. We all know what it’s like to feel judged by someone and the pain of that can be felt days, months or even years down the line.The  word “discern” comes from the Greek “krino,” which means “to separate.” Discernment is a more personal and conscious approach. It’s the cognitive ability to distinguish, from our perspective, what is “right” or “wrong.” Discernment is “keen perception; insight; acumen”. The Sanskrit word for discernment is “Viveka” and is about seeing things clearly. Insight is seeing into something, from our inner self, not from outer rigid standards, opinions or social pressures. When we use Viveka, we are tapping into something much deeper than our egos passing judgment. We are using the ability to perceive clearly from our own point of view. True discernment requires realising that the very opposite perception might exist through the eyes of another and that we indeed live in a multiverse of truth. Furthermore, we recognise that our vision is always obscured by what we don’t know that we don’t know. This requires much enlightenment so it is definitely easier to judge. If it is so much easier, then
  2. Why shouldn’t we judge? It’s all too easy to condemn things or people that are different, or to bad-mouth people we dislike or disagree with. Many do it unconsciously without realising or caring about the polarisation it creates. Judgment, labelling, stereotyping and segregating divide, hurt and anger us. At the same time, we don’t want to fall into the trap of the opposite because without some way to determine what’s good or not, standards disintegrate. Hurting another human being intentionally and maliciously is not what we want, but we can’t avoid distinguishing things from each other. If we feel pressurised to accept everyone as they are, hurtful behaviour would be ignored, crime tolerated, children undisciplined and so on. Employees might become mediocre and unmotivated without a comparison to good standards. We are seeing the problems that have come from the absence of making distinctions for fear of offending or excluding anyone. So, if we don’t want to judge, what do we do? We take a leaf out of Sanskrit philosophy and practise “Viveka”, or discernment. But before we can do that…
  3. How can you identify whether you are judging or discerning and move away from judging? At first glance, the emotions of judgment and discernment may feel similar as both are a reaction or response to a person, place, situation, opinion and so on. It’s the motivating force behind each that tells the difference. Unfortunately, many of us don’t dig that deep because we are so identified with our reactive, judging mind. Hearing it say things like, “What an idiot!” “How could they?!?” “Stupid!” “They are so incompetent… narrow minded… (fill in any other label or judgement)” “That (fill in the blank) is so wrong, bad” is very conditioned. In that moment, we close the door to any other truth, our mind is made up, and that person, thing, religion, culture, way of thinking – whatever – has been condemned. This is often a reaction from insecurity, fear, jealousy or plain ignorance. (Although our ego will judge this as a terrible idea). We make ourselves or our perspective right while others are wrong. In the criticism, we become self-righteous and fuel division. We also judge ourselves in this harsh way too and make ourselves bad and wrong.If we were confident in our ability to discern, we wouldn’t need to criticise. We would be able to choose what works for us while allowing others to choose what works for them. We would be confident pointing out injustice (because discernment does not turn a blind eye when malicious harm is done to others) in an assertive manner without resorting to aggressive or passive aggressive behaviour. We would take time to understand the essence of other religions, sexual orientations, cultures, personalities, lifestyles and so on. We would approach life with more empathy (I like Brené Brown’s way of describing empathy) and a growth mindset. We would realise that certain situations are so complex that there really isn’t one right or wrong and we are naïve and ignorant to think so. This was a massive wake-up call for me and a very hard spiritual lesson I learnt in my early 20s. It was tough but very freeing to let go of the need to be “right” or to judge things as “right” or “wrong”. The realisation that what we perceive as being “wrong” is often just people just doing the best they can under their current circumstances opened my mind.
This is quite a bit to digest. I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you notice as you become more aware and differentiate judging and discerning. Next week I will give some more guidelines for how we can practise discerning. Let’s take Key Steps together to make this world a kinder place and… ‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
‘be the difference that makes the difference.’
  1. Namaste,

NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.

Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

About Dr Sharon King Gabrielides

Sharon is a dynamic facilitator, speaker and executive coach with over 25 years’ experience in leadership development and organisational transformation. Her PhD thesis contributed a framework for holistic and sustainable leadership development that was published by Rutgers University in the USA. She is faculty of numerous business schools and highly sought-after by leading corporates because she works hand-in-hand with them to create sustainable results and long-term success. In 2020, Sharon was inducted into the Educators Hall of Fame, which is a lifetime achievement award, recognising excellence and her contribution to the field.

Sharon is one of only three women in South Africa to have achieved the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) – the Oscar of the speaking industry. She is also a COMENSA Master Practitioner (CMP), a qualified Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT™) and an accredited Global Virtual Speaker. Sharon is also a registered Education, Training and Development Practitioner (ETDP), holds an Honours degree in Psychology and practices as an NLP master practitioner.

Most important to Sharon is that she has become known for her genuinely caring manner, practical and transformational approach, and for providing valuable tools and that allow people to take Key Steps to really…

‘be the difference that makes the difference.’


NOTE: The information in my blog may be freely shared and re-used in any online or offline publication, provided it is accompanied by the following credit line: This was written by Dr Sharon King Gabrielides, and originally appeared in her free weekly  ‘Key Steps Food for Thought Blog’ available on the Key Steps website.