Is it acceptable to judge one's behaviour/attitude through his actions?
January 30, 2010 11:25 PM   Subscribe

Is it acceptable to judge one's behaviour/attitude through his actions?

Is it acceptable to judge one's behaviour/attitude through his actions?For example, how can person A knows person B is a patient person if not for the way patient B acts?

And also if you love someone, should we not judge them at all just like what Mother Theresa says? One should also always be him/herself in a relationship, but what if being him or herself creates much arguments in the relationship.. so does that mean the relationship is failing ? or is it okay to change for the relationship?
posted by red_rika to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it acceptable to judge someone's behaviour by judging their behaviour? Why yes, I think it just may be!
posted by timeistight at 11:30 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

It depends on the circumstances. It's possible to know that despite the way person A acts on the outside, they're really [positive trait] on the inside, but what good does that do if the person continues to hurt you?

With positive traits, there isn't a need to look further than on the outside unless you have a suspicion about the person.

Depends on the reason the arguments are happening. Is it a communication issue, or something of that sort that can be solved with work? Or does person A just not like some aspect of person B's personality? (still solvable, but goes into "trying to change the person" territory.)
posted by biochemist at 11:32 PM on January 30, 2010

Well, to answer the first question, I would say that if one is going to judge somebody, then their actions are the only possibly basis on which to judge. You can never know for sure what somebody is thinking or feeling, so their actions are all you have to go on.

As for the second question, well, that's harder. But I think that it's ok, in general, to change your behavior for the sake of a relationship, but only if you want to change. It shouldn't be forced. If being yourself in a relationship causes problems, then it's probably not the right relationship.
posted by number9dream at 11:34 PM on January 30, 2010

I think you are over-thinking some things.

First, judge people however you want. Why do you have to justify how you feel about someone to anyone else?

As to the second part, there's a difference between minor compromise and changing major facets of your personality... That said, if being yourself in relationship causes problems, you should probably end that relationship.
posted by Menthol at 11:35 PM on January 30, 2010

Is it acceptable to judge one's behaviour/attitude through his actions?

You mentioned Mother Theresa. I'm sure she'd mention Jesus, who I'm pretty sure said "Judge not lest ye be judged."

So the real question is:

but what if being him or herself creates much arguments in the relationship.. so does that mean the relationship is failing ? or is it okay to change for the relationship?

To which I would answer, I Don't Know. What does your heart tell you?
posted by philip-random at 11:35 PM on January 30, 2010

Behavior is, by definition, comprised of actions. So judging actions are judging behavior, and vice versa.

The only way to judge attitudes are by judging actions and by judging what somebody says about those actions. So, in your example of patience, you would expect the patient person to both wait and express a willingness or acceptance of waiting. I can wait, because there's often nothing to do but wait, but fuck I hate it in most circumstances--I'm not patient. Without actions, the words are meaningless, and without the words the actual mental state of a person is difficult to judge.

In a romantic relationship, I don't believe that unconditional (non-judgmental) love is necessary or expected, really. If your wife cheats on you, then you're (probably) justified in divorcing her. That's certainly a condition on love. On the other hand, unconditional love for your children is necessary and expected in most cultures. On the gripping hand, unconditional love for your parents is not necessary but is expected in most cultures--much to the disservice of many children. So, the short answer there is: depends on the relationship.
posted by Netzapper at 11:40 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You MUST judge others (and yourself!) on the basis of actions! Actions are defining, they tell the story of any one's meaning or intent. They will define you and everyone you know. Old cliche: Actions speak louder than words. I am not "old" as the meaning is known, nor young anymore by any means, but truer words were never spoken. Talk is just talk, and of course people will make mistakes all the time, but behavior is the only way to judge a person. You need to use your judgement in order to evaluate people, what they mean in your life. So you do need to judge. Be smart! Sit still, keep your mouth shut and watch! A person's day-to-day behavior will tell you what you want to know about yourself or anyone else. Another old quote: To thine own self be true!
You may teach yourself discipline but it is hard to really overcome the self inside, and what it wants. You have to be as honest as you can with that, and don't try to conform to any other person's wishes for your your behavior. Do your best by people and yourself, but trying to discipline yourself to change for someone else is a fool's errand!
Good luck with this question, as I'm sure this doesn't help much but it's true nonetheless!
posted by bebrave! at 1:06 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is it acceptable to judge one's behaviour/attitude through his actions?For example, how can person A knows person B is a patient person if not for the way patient B acts?

Well, one would have to apply common sense in dealing with extenuating circumstances; I might be a patient driver under most circumstances, but not when rushing my pregnant wife to hospital. Let's say, for argument's sake there are no relevant extenuating circumstances.

There's also the possibility of actions taking place out of view. I might donate 10% of my income to charities anonymously (not telling anyone about it, not to brag) but then I might not give money to beggars/office collections. In that situation, a person judging me on the actions they had observed might conclude I was not generous, because they only saw me ignoring beggars and refusing charity collections. Let's say, for argument's sake, that the person engaging in judgement is in full possession of the facts.

Let's also say the purpose of knowing whether someone is kind/patient/generous/whatever is to work out how they will act in the future. Person A wants to know if person B is patient, so they can estimate how person B will act in the future. Well, for the purposes of predicting how someone will act, having patience that is never displayed is just the same as not having patience.

Therefore, in my view, in the absence of extenuating circumstances or incomplete information, it's reasonable to judge a person's attitudes through their actions.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:12 AM on January 31, 2010

A note about the question itself: it needs to be edited for clarity.

First, as others have pointed out, behavior is a collection of actions, and the question would only make sense, if "behavior" is dropped from it: "Is it acceptable to judge one's attitude through his actions?"

Second, it is not clear what Mother Teressa has to say on the subject, so that part of the question may use some more elaboration or a reference.

That being said, I would say that it is fair to judge one's attitude through his actions in a romantic relationship, but you shouldn't rely solely on that. Especially, if you feel that you and the other person aren't communicating effectively, i.e. if you think your messages aren't coming across to the other person, you are having a hard time expressing yourself to them, etc. In that case it might be worth trying a different approach to talking to them.

It is very hard to respond in the abstract. If you can give some more detail on your situation, perhaps you'll get more specific and useful responses.
posted by albatross84 at 1:16 AM on January 31, 2010

"If one says actions do not sum a diagnose of a person's attitude or personality. There is more than that."

Whats basically more than that?
posted by red_rika at 1:33 AM on January 31, 2010

Behavior is all you have to judge people on (unless you are psychic or know they are a secret agent.)

If someone is telling you they are straight/ patient/ an animal lover but you see them acting in way that does not support that then they are full of shit.

You will end up judging yourself on your own actions too, so don't change for a relationship or deliberately decide to buy a line of bullshit for the sake of your own wants unless you are 100% comfortable with the consequences of doing so because you will end up judging yourself much more harshly than the other person.
posted by fshgrl at 1:35 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone tends to imbue themselves with certain qualities, and these will generally be positive. People like to think they are patient, kind, generous, reasonable, etc. Not everyone has these qualities. Generally, whether they have these qualities or not depends on whether they acftually manifest in our behaviour. Otherwise the individual professing them is deluding themselves.
posted by biffa at 2:12 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

red_rika: ""If one says actions do not sum a diagnose of a person's attitude or personality. There is more than that."

Whats basically more than that?"

I would say that similar actions can be done for different reasons behind them; observing an action and attributing a certain intention to it may be difficult.
If someone picks up a kitten sitting in the street and puts it down in a nearby front yard that could have several reasons:
* the guy loves cats and doesn't want the kitten to be hit by a car
* the guy loves children and does not want drivers to become distracted or swerve to avoid the cat and possibly hit one of the playing children nearby
* the guy hates cats and knows the house the yard belongs to has a vicious guard dog
* the guy is friends with the family who owns the yard and knows their cat just got kittens
and so on...

In my opinion actions alone are often not sufficient to establish a personality; if at all possible there should be the question why people do the things they do.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 3:01 AM on January 31, 2010

By their fruits you will know them, right?
You don't have to judge someone's soul. You do have to make judgments -- discriminations -- about people based on what they do (a murderer has to go to jail because he murdered, not because he thought about it.) You have to make decisions and choices -- based on judgments -- about the things that affect your life, including the actions of people who impact you. If someone's actions are making your life darker, I believe you are obligated to act in a way that allows you to live in a better way.
I don't think Mother Theresa would say people should suffer.
posted by fullofragerie at 3:08 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

To clarify: I think you should be kind. Don't take on the role of judge, and don't act in a way that itself would be judged as hurtful. But if someone is making you miserable you're allowed to break up with them so you can live your life the best way you can.
posted by fullofragerie at 3:12 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you need to clarify what you mean by "judge."

If judge = 'decide whether I like someone,' then of course you do that on the basis of their behavior; you have nothing else to go on.

If judge = 'make guesses about what to expect from someone in the future,' then again, you pretty much have to do this. Again, you have little else to go on.

On the other hand, if judge = 'label and pigeonhole someone,' then you're in stickier territory. You can generalize about your experiences with someone, i.e. whether or not they seem patient to you, but your experiences of that person are not definitive. Your perspective is, by definition, subjective, and any such descriptions you might proffer can only hold together if you somehow aknowldege their subjective nature. Categorical labeling or pigeonholing that pretends to be objective will inevitably be either flat wrong, woefully oversimplified, or both.


To the second question, behavior is not identity. Behavior follows from identity, because it serves particular personal needs and solves particular personal problems. But, changing one's behavior does not change one's personality.

In relationships it's fine and good to change your behavior for the sake of the relationship or to help someone else get their needs met and problems solved, so long as you do not betray yourself in the process.
posted by jon1270 at 4:36 AM on January 31, 2010

Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit." So, yes, behavior is a pretty good clue about who someone actually is.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:00 AM on January 31, 2010

Unless there's something in his life which is causing him grief. Know of the fundamental attribution error?
posted by Jazzwick at 6:35 AM on January 31, 2010

It's not what you say that's important. It's what you do.
posted by toastedbeagle at 6:38 AM on January 31, 2010

Apparently, psychologists answer your question with a big NO: Fundamental attribution error

Studies have been done in which people's behavior can be entirely manipulated by changing trivial aspects of their environment, let alone the larger state of their lives. This is true especially of behavior that seems to reflect on their moral character.
posted by k. at 7:40 AM on January 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Knowing another person, understanding who they are and what they're capable of, is not a simple thing.

It's true that the only evidence we have for knowing other people is their actions; therefore, we are forced to evaluate people based on the things they've done.

But you're talking about someone you love. And love is a much more intimate knowledge of another person. When you love someone, knowing them based on the things they've done is very different from knowing them based on the things they're doing right now. Love sometimes means trusting that people aren't the way they are acting at the moment. If we couldn't trust that people aren't always the way they are currently acting, then we couldn't accept apologies from them. When we accept an apology, we're saying: I know that you have been trustworthy in the past, so I trust you when you say you regret having done this thing. We're still judging them by their actions, but we're not being superficial about it; we're taking into account everything we know about them.

When Mother Teresa said that "If you judge people, you have no time to love them," she was speaking about moral judgment. She meant that, when we're focused on something someone said or did that was wrong, we don't have time to love them. In a way, she's saying the same thing. It's that one of the best parts of love is forgiveness: accepting that the people we feel have done something wrong are human beings, and have shown that they have the capacity to change.
posted by koeselitz at 8:52 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

And – even people who have always acted in a certain way can regret it, and try to change. You can try to decide if they'll be capable of changing by looking at whether they've been able to change in different ways in the past. But human beings always have some capacity to change themselves, even if it's only a tiny capacity. Sometimes love means trusting in that capacity to change.
posted by koeselitz at 8:57 AM on January 31, 2010

I tend to judge people's characters by the way they treat people in the service industry. But that has a lot to do with the values that I find important and is part of the whole process of getting to know someone.
posted by Ruki at 9:03 AM on January 31, 2010

This is what I heard in your question.

Person A: "Why did you act like that? Why did you treat me that way?"

Person B: "It was your fault. I'm such a patient person down inside. It's you that makes me lose my patience. If you would just blah blah blah, then I could be my normal patient person again."

Person A: "Oh, I'm sorry. I know you're patient. You tell me that all the time. I'll try to change so you can be patient again."

Person B: "And stop judging me for not being patient since it's your fault in the first place."

Apologies if this is not your situation but if you are looking for justification for accepting poor behavior from another person, then your reaction needs to be based on behavior.
posted by tamitang at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2010

I think if you are going to judge someone, you also need ways to verify and revise your judgements. Not just because people grow and change, but because judgments, like any kind of real decision based on measurement, can be inaccurate or incorrect.
posted by polymodus at 9:44 AM on January 31, 2010

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

--Walt Whitman
posted by polymodus at 9:46 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the perspective of the social contract / legal system we live under, you're entitled to your own opinions, thoughts, and actions (within legal constraints that likely don't apply to your situation). As far as morality goes, it's up to you, but I'd recommend that if you're going to change yourself, change for what you think is good; don't change to put up with someone's annoying and unreasonable actions.

For the relationship, if there is no reason to be worried about violence, you should talk about your concerns and work it out. If your partner is dangerous, leave!
posted by sninctown at 10:16 AM on January 31, 2010

Allowing that speech is action of a sort we can only judge people by their actions. Directly measuring the state of someone's mind isn't something we know how to do, so we must model peoples' minds by looking at their behaviour. Sometimes people make descriptions of themselves which collected together make the ego, but when these descriptions are at odds with reality I'd dispute claims that the ego is more important.
posted by larkery at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2010

Assuming (as some other respondents have) that your question is coming from a Christian context, I always find C. S. Lewis' sharp mind cuts through such complex questions, as in the following quotation:

""It [the Jewish worldview] supplements the Christian picture in one important way. For what alarms us in the Christian picture, is the infinite purity of the standard against which our actions will be judged. But then we know that none of us will ever come up that standard. We are all in the same boat. We must all pin our hopes on the mercy of God and the work of Christ, not on our own goodness. Now the Jewish picture of civil action sharply reminds us that perhaps we are faulty not only by the Divine standard (that is a matter of course) but also by a very human standard which all reasonable people admit and which we ourselves usually wish to enforce upon others. ... Of course, we forget the most of the injuries we have done. But the injured parties do not forget even if they forgive. And God does not forget."

He also said that Love is not mere Kindness. "Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering", while Love "would rather see [the loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes".
posted by forthright at 10:45 AM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

It can be useful to separate judgment from response. You don't have to decide whether a person, or their behavior, is "good" or "bad," but I think it's necessary to remember that when you're in a relationship, neither person's actions take place in a vacuum.
I once dated a man whose ex-wife had been (by his account) devastatingly unfaithful. His response to that, in our relationship, was to doubt me. He wanted me to check in with him constantly, and became very upset if I couldn't account for my time, or if I wasn't where he thought I should be. I felt as if I was being punished for a total stranger's behavior, and it made it very difficult for us to build a relationship of our own. In the end, he was unable to adjust... and so was I.
There was no need for me to judge him or his actions; but at the same time, that didn't mean I needed to accept all his choices without taking into account what effect those choices had on me.
posted by ElaineMc at 11:37 AM on January 31, 2010

Agreed with Pontifex and fulloffragerie's second comment.

I wonder why you're asking this question. Is it because you can't trust the people who say they are patient (or whatever) because you see them acting in non-patient ways? And therefore you wonder, should I judge them on what they say, or on what they do? And so, isn't your question, how do I really get to know a person? How can I tell what they're all about?

It really comes down to trusting yourself and what you need in your interactions with other people. If you need people to be patient with you, and you say this to them, and they end up not being patient, there could be several reasons why this is. You could not have communicated clearly. They could not have understood you. They may not know how to be patient. They may not care about your feelings (which would be really mean). They could say that they're patient, and if your experience of them is they are not, then that is your experience with them. Maybe they are patient in other areas of their lives, but if you're not there to see that, then your understanding of them is that they're not patient.

For your second question about relationships, are you the one creating arguments in the relationship? And you don't want to be judged for it? I think the important part here is to understand why are you creating arguments? Are there things that you don't like, and you want those things to change, but you don't know how to change them? Arguments in a relationship could mean that it's failing, or at the very least, something needs to be worked on. Is your partner judging you for being argumentative? If so, I think that's unfair, but it's not a question of you should or shouldn't judge in a relationship and if you love someone. It's more important to understand and work out compromises.

If your partner is creating arguments and you don't think you should judge them, again, it's important to understand where your partner is coming from. It's not helpful to judge them for being argumentative, then the focus shifts to their character instead of what they're not happy about. Even though it sounds like I'm saying "you shouldn't judge your partner if you love them," that statement doesn't really capture the nuances of what I'm trying to say. It's not about what you "should" or "shouldn't" do, it's about developing the skills to have healthy relationships. Those include being honest, communicating, negotiating and understanding.

About changing yourself for a relationship - it depends on what the change is. If you become say, more understanding, that's a change, and that's a good kind of change. But if your partner wants you to be something you're clearly not (e.g. really formal and snobby when in reality you are down to earth and relaxed), that's not a good change. Don't change because you think you "should," change because you really want to. Do it for yourself, to be a better person, not just to make someone else happy. Like others have said, it's hard to answer in the abstract; describing a specific situation would help us out.
posted by foxjacket at 8:55 PM on January 31, 2010

We are not what we dream, we are what we do.
posted by Cobalt at 6:29 PM on February 1, 2010

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