The difference between a judgment and a discernment is really quite simple. A discernment is something I see dispassionately and clearly without any emotional charge. I may or may not be correct in what I see, but I am able to hold it very lightly. There is a quality of detached curiosity to my discernment.
Judgment is toxic to connection. A simple example that most parents go through is asking a teenager how his or her day went. If you get a response of “OK” or “Fine”, it probably means that your child is expecting a judgment from you and has already decided that it is safer to brush you off than to answer honestly.
When my daughter was about 15, she was a bit of a hellion. I tried to reach her and have a serious conversation with her, but it was like pounding my head against a brick wall. The wall always won. So I decided to try something different. I told her that I wanted to do an experiment. I promised not to judge anything she said, but to simply hear it. She gave me a wry smile and said, “Careful what you ask for, Dad.”
Over the next couple weeks, she tested me by telling me all about her life. I heard about sex, drugs, alcohol and more. As I listened to her, I felt like I had swallowed a box of lit cherry bombs; but I said nothing. Eventually, she softened her disclosures to what was real for her that day. She stopped trying to trigger me because I wasn’t taking the bait. Ultimately, this had a transformative impact on our relationship. It wasn’t perfect, but then neither was (or am) I; but we do have an excellent relationship now. She has grown up to be an amazing young woman.
Judgment and discernment can be tricky. I often believe that I see defensiveness in my wife’s behavior; however, if I say that I think she is being defensive, she hears that I am judging her. The irony of this is that we are both right. She is being defensive and I am judging her.
Navigating this dilemma is a challenge. I must be aware of my own charge when I encounter her defenses and be able to let go of that charge rather than presenting her with my judgments. And this brings up what I am trying to adopt as a mantra:
If I am triggered, it’s my stuff.
And its’ corollary:
If you are triggered, it’s your stuff.