"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson
logo

"Who Are We To Judge?"

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 26
Publish Date: 
Thu, 09/12/2013

 

On a glorious springtime visit to San Francisco -- where the “if it feels good do it” culture is reflected in the bumper sticker “your body may be a temple, but mine’s an amusement park” -- I was struck by the tattooing trend, as if body art is the modern version of big shoulder pads or mini-skirts, not a sign of rebellion.


Personally, I prefer art on a canvas, not a human chest, though in healthy societies, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

 

Then I encountered a scantily clad, tattoo-festooned woman on whose neck and jaw was emblazoned the ultimate gotcha-question: “Who are you to judge?”


Disarmed and unnerved by her determination to discredit judgmental passers-by, and before I could Think Again, I felt shame. After all, what compassionate, well-meaning person could answer her question without seeming prejudicial? Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin – even when it’s variegated dragons or flowers?  

 

Like the branding on her skin, this encounter, though fleeting, stuck with me. Whether wearing a scornful signpost to the world actually makes her feel good, it made me feel bad.  Was this her intention? Why provoke defensiveness and discord in a world that suffers from too much already? Wouldn’t she be happier if passers-by smiled rather than recoiled, and wouldn’t more smiling passers-by make the world a better place?

 

In his book “Living a Life that Matters,” Rabbi Harold Kushner offers answers: “Because we find ourselves in so many settings that proclaim our insignificance…some people do desperate things to reassure themselves that they matter to the world.”


As if anticipating Miley Cyrus’ recent unseemly-televised antics, Kushner wrote, attention-seekers “confuse notoriety with celebrity, and celebrity with importance…. They may come across as pitiable…but their story holds the attention of millions of Americans. They matter.”

 

But what kind of epitaph is: “She desperately wanted to matter?” Wouldn’t a better tombstone read: “She did the right thing, even when no one was looking?”

 

One needn’t be the Dalai Lama to know that every day, in seemingly insignificant ways, we can promote goodness, compassion and peace, and help repair the world.  “And if you can’t help [others],” the Dalai Lama did say, “at least don’t hurt them.”

 

Holocaust survivor and celebrated psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote advice in his memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that Cyrus could use: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

 

In the camps, Frankl found meaning by clinging to his beloved wife’s image; finding decency, even in German guards; and helping comrades persevere, confirming Friedrich Nietzsche’s insight that “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

 

After selling millions of books, and aware its popularity was “an expression of the misery of our time,” Frankl offered this counsel in the 1992 edition: “Happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

 

It’s a shame it often takes a traumatic experience to uncover these truths. Mine happened this summer after being diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the reason for the brief hiatus from this column. Cancer is a great equalizer since it knows no prejudice as to whom it afflicts and at first, the afflicted know only disappointment, uncertainty and fear.

 

Yet being vulnerable opens one’s heart to generosity and consolation, and to random acts of kindness performed by compassionate strangers: the MRI-technician who mercifully held my hand and wiped my tears; the friends who put aside their concerns to help divert me from mine; the cancer survivors who inspired me to see hope; the doctors whose patience with my questions comforted me, and the family-members who supported me through it all.

 

After a harrowing few weeks, and a good pathology report, I took a previously planned trip to Israel where I stood at the Western Wall – the holiest place in Judaism – not to ask anything of God, but to thank God for my many blessings. And as I welcomed the New Year on Rosh Hashanah, I felt a heavenly jolt when I recited the Shehecheyanu blessing, which thanks God for sustaining and bringing us to this moment.

 

What makes us matter in a world where we can often feel insignificant is not how we brand ourselves as individuals, it’s the mark we stamp on others’ hearts and the legacy we leave the world. As the ancient Talmud teaches, “a good person, even in death, is still alive.”

 

Think Again – rather than “if it feels good do it,” wouldn’t a better life creed be “if it makes others feel good, do it?”

Share this

Incidentally, Melanie,

Incidentally, Melanie, variegated means (according to Merriam-Webster) "having patches, stripes, or marks of different colors," so multi-variegated would be different colored different colors.

Melanie's shame at being judgmental about the tattooed lady is actually another form of the tattooed one's behavior -- based on the conviction that normality is conformist, narrow-minded, unworthy.

In my view, Melanie gets almost everything about this encounter wrong.

First, she does not recognize that the tattooed woman was not only being aggressive -- trying to upset and intimidate passers-by -- but was herself being "judgmental." That is, her body slogan assumed that anyone seeing her would have a "prejudicial" reaction.

Now it is true that outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and most college towns, many do find grotesquely tattooed people distasteful if not revolting. According to Melanie's description, the anti-judgmental crusader's body "art" was pretty mild compared to other examples. I can't bring myself to link to it, but if you don't know the depths of this contemporary self-mutilation and think you can handle it, go to Google Images and type "tattoos" in the search field.

And here is Melanie's second, and biggest, mistake. She has signed on to one of the fallacies of institutionalized rebellion: the idea that something being permissible for the sake of individual freedom means that no one must criticize it or reject the person who performs the act.

That is, not only is everyone allowed the most outrageous exhibitionism, they are supposedly entitled to approval and protected from disapproval.

No! Disturbed people have a right to make themselves appear loathsome, while others have a right to say, "You are disgusting and make me sick."

Melanie seems not to get any of this. Her problem is in line with the therapeutic value system she was raised in: the offense was in making Melanie feel bad.

Like the branding on her skin, this encounter, though fleeting, stuck with me. Whether wearing a scornful signpost to the world actually makes her feel good, it made me feel bad. Was this her intention? [Note to Melanie: Do you have to ask? Publicly expressed scorn is designed to make someone else feel bad.] Why provoke defensiveness and discord in a world that suffers from too much already? Wouldn’t she be happier if passers-by smiled rather than recoiled, and wouldn’t more smiling passers-by make the world a better place?

Melanie then goes off on a side trip about being diagnosed with cancer and people who helped her through her successful treatment. If she wants my sympathy, she has it -- the whole article is really about her, not a social phenomenon or someone else's behavior. If she valued warmth and kindness while undergoing cancer treatment, why did she experience "shame" because of someone trying to make her feel rotten?

"Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin — even when it’s multi-variegated dragons or flowers?" But the "multi-variegated" dragons, flowers, and other less savory designs that nut jobs have permanently inscribed on their skin reveal the content of their character. They weren't born that way -- they chose to have it done to themselves. Bless their souls anyway. As for their personalities, sod them.

"Who are you to judge?" I've

"Who are you to judge?"

I've always thought that there was a circularity in that sort of comment, because it itself constitutes a kind of judgment. And in the case of the tattooed woman, she had had that judgment PERMANENTLY engraved on her body, making herself kind of a walking judgment of other people, an instigator of judgment.

The greater the ornamentation

The greater the ornamentation on the outside, the emptier on the inside.

Then I encountered a scantily

Then I encountered a scantily clad, tattoo-festooned woman on whose neck and jaw was emblazoned the ultimate gotcha question: “Who are you to judge?”

Who are you to ask me that question? Will you judge me by my answer? If not, why ask?

Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin — even when it’s multi-variegated dragons or flowers?

Unlike the color of the skin with which one is born, the color one intentionally adds to their skin may indicate character, e.g. prison tats vs a Navy Seal tattoo.

How stupid is it for a girl

How stupid is it for a girl to spend $75 on a tattoo on her ankle just so she can say she has one? It looks dumb, because it is.

But Ma, I just want to be different like everybody else!

Sturm: Who are we to

Sturm: Who are we to judge?

We are Human Beings, it’s what we do. We may try not to, or at least give people an opportunity to change our first opinion, but you can’t change human nature.

“The author points out that

“The author points out that in a vast, impersonal society many people grasp at any way to establish an identity, and having tattoos is one of the ways that some people choose.”

Because it is easier to get a tattoo than truly make one’e self into a true individual that means something.

When we get rid of welfare,

When we get rid of welfare, I’ll do less “judging.” The problem with the libertarian approach is that, under our current rules, if somebody exercises his libertarian right to make a mess of his life, he can vote himself into my pocketbook to pay his bills.

Unlike many posters, I read

Unlike many posters, I read the whole thing, and the author's main point about the woman with the tattoos was to ask why the woman chose an inevitably polarizing message rather than a positive one. The author points out that in a vast, impersonal society many people grasp at any way to establish an identity, and having tattoos is one of the ways that some people choose. But the author wonders why the woman in question found it preferable to send a hostile, challenging message rather than a more benign one, one that would not gratuitously raise people's hackles.

Sounds like Ellsworth Toohey

Sounds like Ellsworth Toohey in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.............

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • No HTML tags allowed
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.


Article List

Thu, 09/10/2015

Thu, 09/12/2013

Thu, 06/06/2013

Tue, 01/15/2013

Thu, 05/24/2012

Thu, 03/15/2012

Thu, 07/07/2011

Thu, 03/31/2011