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A midwife friend told me the above story. What a wonderful illustration of judgment in action. How easy it is to make assumptions and react from those assumptions, and confuse what we believe is a kind response with a reaction. From the perspective of the midwife, the behaviour of the couple was wrong and dysfunctional. From the perspective of the couple, their behaviour was normal and functional.

You may like to consider:

  • How many other judgments and reactions are apparent in this encounter?
  • What about the judgments and reactions of the parents to the midwife?
  • Are there any judgments you personally feel were correct or wise?
  • Think of how this situation might have played out differently with a different midwife?

Our attitudes as care-providers will be shaped and influenced not only by our innate character, but also by our personal history and experience, including anecdotal and educational experience. Over a lifetime, we build a view of the world about why things are as they are. We decide which kinds of people, situations, and information we are prepared to trust and include in our life. In other words, we perceive and then judge through the lens of our own beliefs. And our tolerance toward particular people and situations is directly related to our beliefs and judgment about them.

Judging people and situations is not wrong. It helps to identify the potential of a situation as either confronting or comfortable. We can then decideĀ  how to deal with it. However, our ability to judge and act wisely may be easily enhanced or impaired by our beliefs and assumptions.

Our intolerance toward others is usually expressed by disapproval. We may simply be ignorant about how to deal with the unfamiliar, have no desire to deal with it, or unquestioningly adopt an impatient or hostile attitude that has been modelled for us, or we have modelled for ourselves.

As author Gary Zukav so aptly says: ‘Judging others is a way of attempting to change the world, or reorder it to your approval.’

It is inappropriate and counterproductive to treat mothers unkindly or intolerantly through either misjudgment or conditioned response. And we all do it sometimes. We unwisely expend emotional energy being ‘hooked in’ or mesmerized by particular qualities or characteristics of the person, rather than seeing the whole picture. It can be very challenging to maintain respect and give appropriate responses to someone or to a situation we inwardly disapprove of, and find unacceptable.

I remember the first ‘big’ mother I ever worked with. I was distinctly uncomfortable about her size, and then amazed by the ease of her labour.

It made me realize I had many assumptions about ‘big’ being unhealthy and very likely to cause trouble. Ironically, now I notice that thin mothers worry me. I like to see some reserves on mothers to carry them through many months of breastfeeding. Yet when I reflect on the slender mothers I know who have successfully kept up their energy and milk supply, I realise that my judgments are best noted and then ignored. I still notice particular body structures, but focus on exploring individual health concerns with each mother.

How do we learn to be less disapproving in our judgment, so that everyone’s interests are best served?

As we become more aware of our likes and dislikes of certain behaviours and situations, we can consciously choose to remain respectful, compassionate and kind, or clear in our communication about what we can accept and why. Rather than trying to change the other person, it is often easier and more helpful to change the situation, or our own attitude toward the situation.

We can learn to ask:

  • ‘How can I honour myself and still be of assistance to this person?’
  • ‘How can I change or improve this situation?’

Or, we can simply ask:

  • ‘How can I help?’

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