Can we ever be fully free of judgment?

We know that forum works best when it is a judgment-free zone.  We speak from experience; we don’t tell others what to do.

But some situations are much harder than others.  Consider the case of two forum mates, “John” and “Mary”:

John, in full candor, shares something that he has done or some decision or choice he has made.

Mary feels strongly that what John did is wrong, bad, immoral, or unethical.

Even if Mary does not share her feelings out loud, is she still judging John negatively, and does Mary need to clear the air with John?

Or is Mary clean with John as long as she doesn’t verbalize her negative judgment of John?

I believe the answer to this case can be found in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the foundational text on judgment-free living and clearing the air.  Rosenberg makes the compelling case that, “when you’re busy judging people, you have no time to love them.”  In that spirit, Mary needs to clear the air with herself, not with John.  In that process, perhaps she can come to feel not “I judge John negatively because of what he did,” but instead, “I wouldn’t have done what John did, but I will not judge him.”  This can be our guiding mantra in forum (and in life), even if, as flawed human beings, it will be an ongoing struggle to be judgment-free.

Mary (and all of us) might further reflect:

  • Have I truly tried to understand what John did? Under what conditions would I do have done what he did? What would have to happen in my life to do exactly what he did?
  • If I see something in John that I don’t like, is this in any way an aspect of something I don’t like in myself?

A further complicating dimension: What if, in Mary’s view, what John did was not only wrong, but illegal?

While it’s simpler to paint the world in black and white, illegal acts can range across a spectrum from running a traffic light to petty shoplifting to embezzlement to first degree murder.  In general, our role in forum is to be an active listener, to ask thought provoking questions, and to share our experiences.  We are not to act as prosecutor, judge and jury.

However, I make one exception to this philosophy: If John has physically harmed another, or announces his intention to physically harm another (or himself), Mary (and others in the forum) are obligated to do something.  That means, depending on the situation, helping John get the professional mental health support he needs, and/or bringing the issue to the attention of appropriate public safety authorities.

Has your forum ever confronted situations like this?  How have you dealt with them? And how can we enhance our forum experiences by sharing best practices in these most complicated cases?  Please share your thoughts.

A forum #METOO exercise

It is sometimes said that sex and intimacy are the final frontiers of forum.  When forums are willing to share deeply about topics like these, they have reached a level of trust and vulnerability that leads to transformational value.

An exercise focused on issues raised by the #METOO movement, can be one part of these conversations.

The hashtag #METOO is about the phenomenon of people (usually men) in the position of hiring, mentoring, supervising, and/or opening doors for women, and using that as leverage for requiring, suggesting, or demanding a sexual relationship as either an explicit or implicit quid pro quo. The discussion can be broadened to include any type of sexual harassment, gender bias, or sexism in the workplace.

Advance reading (5 minutes)

To encourage deeper sharing, meet first in small groups of 2, 3 or 4 members (Optional: Men and women members of the forum meet separately.) (30 minutes)

When the #METOO story broke, what came up for you? How did you feel? What in your personal life experience did it bring up for you? How have you personally been part of a “#METOO” moment or a possible #METOO moment as a participant or a bystander or an upstander, and how did you feel then? And how do you reflect back and feel now about that story?

The full forum reconvenes (30 minutes)

Confidentiality ground rule: Each of us is allowed to share only our own stories with the full forum, not the stories told by others in our small group meetings.

What thoughts and feelings did the sharing bring up for you?  What was it like to talk about this?  What further thoughts you are having now? What did you share in your small group that you might want to share now?

Possible additional prompts/questions:

  • What was your business school/college/high school experience like as it relates to #METOO?
  • What recent or long past experiences are you now reminded of? Why? How does that make you feel?
  • How do you feel differently from the other people in the forum regarding this issue?
  • How are you resonating with this conversation? What other memories/experiences are being triggered for you? How does that make you feel?

Bob Halperin and Barbara Deck