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, on the other hand always has an associated charge or trigger. If I have a judgment, it is highly probable that my defenses have kicked in and that I have a strong feeling in my body.

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.


Bob Jones

I live in two worlds: my head and my heart. My head world involves computer programming while my heart world lives in connecting deeply with people all over the world and in teaching people to connect more deeply and authentically.

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