Learning to see past our value judgments

Ancient Chinese street punishment of a thief

In a time of massive change, one of the mistaken ‘blink-of-an-eye’ decisions we can easily make is called value judgments: when people do not behave in the way we want them to we can all too easily judge them as being ‘bad’, ‘stupid’, ‘irrelevant’, or ‘wrong’.

But a story from ancient China illustrates how qualities and behaviours considered ‘bad’ in one situation can become ‘good’ in another:

“A city came under siege from a superior army. For many months the people suffered but then one day a notorious thief, locked up in jail, offered to help. At first the people rejected him. After all, he was such a bad man. But after a while they listened to his plan and decided to offer him a chance.

That night, using his skills, the thief crept unseen into the enemy’s camp. He left a dagger in the sleeping general’s tent. The next morning the enemy general was scared and astonished to find the dagger. Angry, he told his men to double the guard.

On the second night, the thief again crept between the enemy soldiers and left another dagger, this time on the sleeping general’s pillow.

The next morning the enemy general gathered his troops and left. Because he knew that on the third night the dagger would be left in him.”

When situations change, a behaviour that was once considered ‘bad’ can become ‘good’, and vice versa. In a time of change, all value judgments become unreliable.

Instead we need to realise that we all have a mix of strengths and weaknesses: we can all make a contribution in some areas and are best avoiding others. But when we label a behaviour or a person as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ then we are making a value judgment. In a time of change this reduces our ability to get the results we want.

It is important to realise that judgments also come pre-packed into much of the everyday language we use: for example, strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat. When we label a situation as a ‘threat’ we have already given up our ability to look for (and find) the opportunities that might exist. When we assume our capability is a ‘strength’ we don’t bother to look for even better ways of doing something. We become complacent. All this will become important again later, when we look for ways to expand our range of options for responding to a situation.

Judgments are assumptions based on the way the world used to work. In a time of change, making these assumptions increases our risk. Learning to spot value judgments and see beyond them will make us more likely to achieve the results we want.

Have you ever made a value judgment about someone, judging the whole person based on one action or characteristic? Is there a situation you are facing at the moment where a judgment you are making about someone might be limiting your results?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building emotional engagement and inspiration during times of change. Buy the Book

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Photo By The British Library via StockPholio.net

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