Judgment means drawing conclusions, making decisions for yourself and acting on your best instincts. Like a lot of leadership topics, it’s about too much or too little. Too much trust of self can lead to biased or magical thinking. Too little, we’re simply letting others decide. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot. That’s not news but it’s sometimes tough to pull off, in part because our judgment influences where we think the sweet spot is going to be.
To further your understanding, look to your conditioning. As a child, were you taught to trust or mistrust your judgment? What factors were, and are involved? Family history, race, gender, the nature of early relationships, family patterns of control, dominance, resistance, compliance? Some of these factors, at best, will be semi-conscious. Did you see yourself as an independent, trust-only-yourself survivor or someone who belonged and placed heavy – maybe too heavy – dependence on others and their views as part of a family or cultural identity?
I suspect you don’t see yourself at either end of the spectrum, which in turn begs the question of how you do see yourself. You can ask yourself what identities you are most proud of: “Free thinker?” “Consensus builder” “Thought leader?” “Creative consolidator?” “Instigator?” Whatever it might be, we didn’t get these roles out of thin air. They reflect our unique being and experience but also our perceived temperament or personality, some of which is the product of genetics and biochemistry. We built up the roles over time, all the way back, and they are still evolving.
Being ingrained self-concepts of some kind, the roles we play may make us who we feel we are and describe our self-assigned identity as leaders, but they also fundamentally define a “false self,” a person we desire or imagine others see us as being beyond our private truths. If it is possible to get to an even truer self, it would be by somehow escaping all the roles or models or truths we act out. We would have to see them all as false and feel in the moment how the timbers of our house, no matter how perfectly assembled, ultimately rest on a void. We would look down in an empty moment and find nothing there.
And yet, if we could genuinely set them aside, that might also begin to feel like a kind of liberation. One way to know if you are breaking free from this house – a house that also surely has qualities of a prison — is if you find yourself disappointed when you sense you are unable to play your “favorite” roles. The house is the ego; the ego is the house, and it is the ego that ultimately rests on the void.
It is after the moment of disappointment wears off that something new, perhaps wordless, then can enter.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, called the true self a “shy wild animal” that only shows itself when all is quiet, lured only by its “divine freedom”.1 It’s a metaphor that is as beautiful as it is provocative. Too often the reference to animals in literature has something to do with hunting, being hunted or being frozen in headlights. Merton’s analogy is of a sweeter, more patient kind, where we have to be still, letting the creature approach us on its own. If we reach out too quickly for an answer, we may only chase it away.
- Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, HarperOne, Kindle Edition, 2012, page 4.