Is it Ever Okay to Judge? – Let’s Discuss!

Posted September 11, 2015 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 39 Comments


I feel like there’s been a relatively new trend (especially in YA) toward fostering complete and absolute acceptance of everyone and everything, and I have to admit that it’s got me thinking. Is it ever okay to judge? Is the actual act of judgment in and of itself bad, or is it what we do with our judgmental thoughts that counts? This is a complicated question, and I don’t know if I’ve come up with any real answers, even for myself, but I decided to jump in and discuss it anyway. I realize that this is a sensitive subject, and I just ask that if/when you respond in the comments that you do so respectfully (feel free to disagree with me completely – I just ask that you do it in a way that’s not inflammatory.)

Here are a few examples of themes I’ve seen in YA books that have given me pause and made me think about my own views and what responses are realistic:

Slut Shaming:

This is the biggest and most obvious topic because it comes up so often in reviews. And I have a feeling I’m going to get myself in trouble by even talking about it here, but I’m going to do it anyway. Sometimes I feel like any time a book has a character who even thinks that it’s a shame another character sleeps around, there’s automatically a cry of “slut shaming!” And I get it – I do. I know there has been a long history of double-standard where guys have been looked at differently when it comes to sex and where girls are condemned for the same behaviors that are applauded in guys (especially by other guys), but it seems that we’ve now swung in the other direction so far that it’s not okay for someone to have the opinion that sex is something more than physical and think that two people should have a connection before they engage in it.

Now, obviously, there are judgmental actions that are not okay – in books or in real life. I’d never want YA books to advocate name calling, bullying, or even shutting someone out because of their choice of sexual partners. That’s not at all what I’m saying here. But does that mean it’s not okay to be concerned about a friend who is making possibly unwise decisions? And I know what some people will say – who is to say what is unwise? But, I do believe that sex has consequences – both emotional and sometimes physical – and those consequences shouldn’t be completely ignored. And I kind of feel like that’s the current push. Now, I know that this is just my opinion based on my own life experiences, but does that mean that my opinion is judgmental? And if someone else thinks badly of me because of that opinion, is that, in itself, judgmental too? You see, it gets really complicated! I don’t necessarily have good answers – just lots of questions!

Drug Use:

I recently read a book where the love interest was dealing drugs – just to his friends and nothing more than pot, but still. The girl’s friends were concerned about her possible relationship with this guy and told her so – and the implication was that they were being judgmental. Because he was really a smart and nice guy – and they didn’t know him, so they were making assumptions about him based on what they’d heard about him – and on the fact that he was known to deal drugs. And I found myself thinking, “Well, those are just good friends.” I mean, really, when did it become not okay to worry about your friend’s involvement with drugs (or with people who deal drugs)? Why should they not have spoken up about it? Now, obviously I don’t think they should have done it in negative and judgmental ways, but I do think it’s okay (and even smart!) for them to express their concerns. (By the way, the overall message of the book in question–Faking Perfectdid end up being positive – the love interest quit dealing drugs, so the message was that his behavior was self-destructive and needed to be changed. I actually really ended up loving the book for the most part – you can read my review by clicking on the link.)


This topic is kind of broad, I know. It covers A LOT. And it’s also the topic I’m most conflicted about discussing because I kind of think this is the one area where it’s not okay to be judgmental. I definitely feel that we should respect and get to know people who are different than us. Whether the difference in question is sexual orientation, religion, culture, race, mental or physical impairment, or just plain personality differences – differences are what make this world a beautiful place! Still, if I’m being realistic, I know that it’s natural to question things we don’t understand – what’s important is what we do with those thoughts and feelings. Do we discriminate, bully, isolate or otherwise hurt  the person? I hope not! I honestly think that the very best thing we can do is try to get to know and understand people and look beyond differences.

Sometimes there will be issues that we won’t ever agree on – I know plenty of people who disagree with me when it comes to religion, and we probably won’t ever agree – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t know and respect that person. It just means that we disagree – and that’s okay. I hope that they don’t judge me for my beliefs either (though, again, if I’m being realistic, I do think some people do – and I don’t even necessarily think they’re wrong for doing it – as long as their actions speak of love and acceptance, I won’t begrudge them a stray thought now and then). And, if we’re being realistic, there are going to be people in this world that we just don’t like for one reason or another. We can’t be expected to be best friends with everyone. How you treat those people is the key.

UPDATE: Wait! I almost forgot one of the instances that first made me even think about this post – the way women are viewed in the biker club in Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry. While I loved the book, it managed to kind of make me feel judgy for not being a fan of the misogynistic views of the bikers, and I thought, “Wait! Shouldn’t I be okay with myself for judging this type of behavior?” Read my review to get my full thoughts on this (the first negatives bullet point).

What’s your point?

As a mom, I have to admit I think about YA books a little differently – I want my kids to make good choices about their bodies, drugs and alcohol and the friends they make. I don’t want them to feel that it’s not okay to have opinions about things. I want them to speak out if they think that friend might be going down a possibly dangerous or self-defeating path. I even want them to know that it’s normal to have negative thoughts about other people’s choices sometimes and that doesn’t automatically make them a horrible person. At the same time, I want them to treat others with kindness and respect – and I want them to be treated the same. It’s a tall order, I know. Let’s face it – there is no perfect world, so we just need to navigate this one in the best ways possible.

So, I guess my overall point is that we makes judgments every day. And the very act of judging is not a bad thing. How do we decide who we are and where we stand without thinking critically about the world and the people around us? And I don’t necessarily think that the very act of thinking that someone is making a bad choice is being judgmental. But like I said, my thoughts on this are really complicated and tangled – in fact, I found myself struggling with my thoughts throughout this whole post! And maybe that’s a good thing – that’s why we need to talk about it!


So, what do you think? Is it ever okay to judge or is the very act of thinking negatively of someone else’s choices an inherently bad thing? How would you like to see this handled in YA books?



39 responses to “Is it Ever Okay to Judge? – Let’s Discuss!

  1. Oh what an awesome topic! I think there’s no way people won’t judge, since each of us have our own moral compass and experiences. I agree that it is what we do with our judging that counts. Shaming versus friendly concern, that is quite different. Actions have consequences, and often times people don’t realize what they’re doing until it is too late. I absolutely would want a friend to talk to me if I was doing something out of character and potentially unsafe if my own judgement became clouded.

  2. Well, it’s definitely a lot easier for people to be accepting of characters in books than of people in real life. So I think the extreme acceptance of characters could be a good thing since only a fraction of that will translate into real life. I think I mostly agree with your assessment though. For the most part, I live by the ideology of, “Who is to say what is unwise?” I don’t judge as long as what the person is doing isn’t hurting others. But I think there’s a difference between being judgmental and having standards. So I respect the character’s (or real life person’s) choices, but that doesn’t mean I relate to them or would want them in my life, and it’s not because I think they’re bad or inferior but more that we’re just not compatible in how we live our lives.

  3. This is definitely a tough topic, Nicole!

    I think there’s a difference between having a positive or negative opinion about an action and judging the person doing the action. Does that make sense? So, a person (or character) can have a negative opinion about the action of having sex with someone ‘just’ to scratch an itch, but that does not mea n they have the right to judge the person who had casual sex. Same with the love interest who dealt drugs – I think it’s good that the MCs friends were concerned about the action of selling drugs, and the negative impact this could have on their friend – but I don’t think it would be OK for them to judge the love interest.

    So I guess I’m all for having opinions, but as long as we haven’t walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, we really have no idea what they have been through, and we never have the right to judge them as a person. And sometimes, sharing our opinions can come across as judging people – depending on how we express ourselves and the way we look when discussing a topic – or a person.

    Have a fantastic weekend!!

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted: Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts #32 – Menagerie
  4. In my opinion, thinking critically and even discussing critically about an action or lifestyle that we see others doing (whether in real life or in a book) is necessary, because it allows us to decide what actions and lifestyles we want in our lives. And passing judgement on an action (I approve of this action, and want it in my life, or I do not approve of this action, and don’t want it in my life) is also equally necessary. However, passing judgement on a PERSON (this is a good person because they do things I approve of, this is a bad person because they do things I don’t approve of) is dangerous. And acting on that judgement by shaming, harming or ostracizing a person is especially bad.

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  5. Really interesting post and questions. I have absolutely no answers and to be honest not sure how I feel. It is so hard with these kinds of topics. I mean if a you or a character, in the case of a book, really is worried about someone I think it is good to talk to the person. You should try not to be judgemental about it though. Sometimes that is hard. That’s all I got lol. Great topic !!

    Grace @ Rebel Mommy Book Blog recently posted: Review ~ Hanover House
  6. I think it’s normal, in real life and with books, to see a person’s behavior as inappropriate (doing drugs, or cheating) but at the same time, you have to remember that it is just one side of them. I think everyone judges people in some degree, but it’s important to remember that not everyone thinks the way you do and that’s okay (usually – unless that person believes that murder is cool) because it makes the world go round.

    ShootingStarsMag recently posted: A Whole New World of Gifs (Book by Liz Braswell)
  7. I think it’s almost human to judge people, although I try not to, it’s still hard. We learn things are good or bad and often judge the world around us based on that, but I often think the reason why we shouldn’t judge is because we don’t know the whole story.
    Is a girl sleeping around because she runs away from her problems or because she likes trying different things or guys? Is the reason for that behavior a problem or mental illness or is it more that person’s personality and how they deal with it. Is she being safe and conscious about it or lashing out and hurting people?
    Same with drugs and alcohol, it’s more about how you use it and why, that’s imortant. It’s not a glass of alcohol that’s bad, but getting drunk every night probably is.
    I remember how my mom used to tell us to not give money to people who sell those newspaper like things and stand next to supermarkets or shopping centres as they only use the money for drugs or alcohol, while in fact she didn’t knew those people and it’s possible they are trying to build their life and will buy food or shelter with the money.
    I think as a friend it’s okay to address a topic if you are worried about your friends, but you also should be open enough to hear the whole story and not judge based only on the behavior. I also think it’s very difficult to hold that attitude and I can understand that people and characters in books not always will do that as it’s easier to judge than to be open minded and hear the whole story first and often you will never hear the whole story. So I wonder if you can really blame people from judging? I am not saying it’s okay ad I think we should keep an open mind, but I also think that’s easier said than done. Sorry not sure what my point is, just trying to type out my thoughts on the subject.
    I do think it’s important to try and not judge people and keep an open mind if possible, but I also think that’s often hard.

  8. I have been thinking about this very topic a lot lately. I recently read about a YA book banned in NZ recently. Some groups thought it was too much for a teen to handle and now shop owners will be fined for even attempting to sell it. I have 2 teenagers now, so I understand wanting to sensor what your kids get exposed to. There is no way to really do that. The world by and large is not going to stop the insanity before kids get old enough to handle it. The internet, friends at school, (hell, even phones have internet) these things are hard to compete with. I would rather hand a book like that to my kid and then ask them what they thought about it. In the case of bad characters, they are going to be inserted between those pages just *so* we can judge them.
    These things/people are out there so why not introduce them in the safe realm of fiction first. That’s just my opinion. Also, if I don’t like something I *judge* it however I want. You should feel free to judge. I don’t make those assumptions for other people but my triggers should not keep someone from reading something.
    I rather like the idea of bad characters doing bad things in the safe confines of a book.

    • I agree with you that I don’t mind seeing these things in fiction. You’re right that processing them in books is the best way to help your kids understand a lot of the world. And, yeah, I guess I just feel like I shouldn’t have to feel bad for judging dangerous behaviors when I see them in books (or life!). I do agree with a lot of the commenters about the difference between judging the people and the actions though – there is a distinction.

  9. Wow, this is a tough one! So, where to even begin? First, I think that when you talked about questioning stuff, that is always okay! Questioning is good- that’s how we learn and grow, and all that good stuff. But you’re right- it’s where we go from there that is important!

    As for the whole concept of being concerned for a friend, um YEAH that is okay. I think that should ALWAYS be okay. If you worry about a friend who’s slept with half the football team, I’d say you’re worried for good reason. For many reasons! Like you said, there is the emotional AND physical ramifications, and they are real. Also, I would be concerned as to WHY the friend was doing this- is everything okay with her? That just isn’t typical behavior, no matter how non-judgemental you want to be. No, you don’t SHAME your friend, that is awful- but to be concerned? That is being a friend!

    Same with drugs and alcohol. There are legitimate safety concerns with both things. I was definitely a little judgey in high school with all of the above, because (and I feel like I sound like a jerk even saying this now haha) my friends were clearly not thinking about the consequences of their actions. I mean, doing drugs in a hotel room with near strangers? Stupid and dangerous. Drinking to the point of passing out,or drinking and driving? Stupid and dangerous. Having unprotected sex with random people? Stupid and dangerous. I mean, it isn’t judging if someone’s health, well-being, and hell, LIFE, is at stake.

    Now, the other stuff. The differences. Nope, not okay to judge. Ever, basically. Unless the person is harming someone else? Yeah, nope. Your religion is your business! Have at it 🙂 No one’s religion has ever or will ever bother me, as long as they aren’t in the business of bothering anyone else. Same with culture or sexual preferences, or anything else. I LOVE that the world is full of diverse people- how boring would it be if we were all the same!? Imagine- traveling to a bunch of countries exactly like your own. Only seeing relationships exactly like your own, only talking to people whose beliefs line up 100% with your own… life would be really quite sad!

    But I know what you mean- in every situation, there’s a gray area, which is the hard part. I guess it’s discretionary, and you have to know that no matter what, you can NEVER please all the people all the time. In those cases, you’re damned if you judge, and damned if you don’t.

    FABULOUS topic, Nicole!

    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight recently posted: Dual Review: Body Image Books
  10. I’m with you on this — as in, torn. I think it’s absolutely fine to have opinions, and being a bit “judge-y” is in human nature. In my opinion the key is to check our judgements, and how our judgement/opinions of other people translates into our actions towards them.

    It’s fine for me to have characters with opinions conflicting to my own (and perhaps a little un-P.C.), as long as they are aware of or called out on it, it doesn’t translate into discrimination/bullying/etc., and preferably, they change by the end of the novel.

    Slut-shaming is such a grey area for me. While of course victim-blaming is unacceptable 100% of the time, I also have no problem with characters who try to advocate self-responsibility and precautions.

    I think it’s natural for characters who prefer monogamous relationships to voice come concern for another character who happens to sleep around recklessly; and it’s a shame when this is interpreted as slut-shaming. Of course sometimes it *does* cross the line into slut-shaming, but that is not always the case. I do think readers (and feminists in general) should take on a more balanced approach when reading these sort of “judging” characters, just as much as writers should also be more balanced when writing judgemental characters (unless they actually *intend* on creating a prejudiced, discriminating a$$hole).

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  11. This is a really interesting post!
    I think everyone, whether they’d like to admit it or not, judges people. It’s just human nature. You can’t really help thinking it, but the difference is that some people not only think but also act on it, or say it out loud, and for me that’s where it becomes a problem. However, in a book I kind of feel like it’s OK to let a character have a few judgemental thoughts (seen as they are supposed to be convincing as real people), as long as it’s nothing too offensive, and it’s made clear in some way that these thoughts are negative eg. the character makes a judgement about another character when they first meet, and it’s proved wrong.
    However, I think that in some of the situations you mentioned it would be OK both in real life and in a book for a friend to say something. For example, if one of my friends kept going off with random men I don’t think it would be judgemental of me to be concerned, because it’s primarily a safety issue – how do they know the guys they’re going off with isn’t some kind of weirdo or serial killer (unlikely, yes, but you never know!). It’s the same with drugs – it’s a safety concern, so I think that’s fair enough.
    This really is such a tough topic though, and this post has really made me think!

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  12. I think it’s important for authors to show these characters some call “judgy” and I call “normal”. In every friendship, there are going to be things you question each other on, whether it’s boyfriends, drug use, sexuality, career choices, etc. It’s OK to accept these things in the big picture, but family and friends should ask questions if only to just know what is going on in someone’s life. Just because gay marriage, for example, is now legal everywhere doesn’t mean all Americans are suddenly accepting of it. Showing a variety of viewpoints, whether popular or not, teaches us to think for ourselves, regardless of opinions of government, religion, or family, and lets us know that our way of thinking or doing things is not the only way.

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  13. Wow! This is a deep post with a ton of questions and lots of things to think about :). We all have judgements and opinions on things, but in my opinion, it’s what you do with those judgements that matters. My friends don’t always make choices I agree with, but if you respect a person and know they mean well, you don’t hold opinions against them. What a great discussion!

    Lisa @ Reading, Writing, and Random Musings recently posted: Book Review – Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  14. Good job handling such a tough topic! I wish I had more to add to what you already said except to say that I agree with you on a lot of this. I’ve had friends who made bad decisions about sex (one that even slept with a guy who she KNEW had an STD, sigh) and those events are real and should be included in stories if that’s what the story calls for. Judgement is a normal part of life. I know that we aim to be non-judgemental, but I also think there’s a difference between pointing out faults and helping someone avoid a tragedy, and discriminating against them because of it. You can point out a friend’s bad decisions and still love them. So yeah, I think these things need to be in books!

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    • Right – when the main character in Faking Perfect was getting involved with a drug dealer, I thought it was pretty reasonable for her friends to question that. The fact that those friends were seen as being judgmental had me scratching my head a bit. After all, some judgments are just based on common sense! (And sometimes people forget common sense occasionally and need a little reminder.)

  15. This is a great and deep topic to discuss. I once thought to never judge a person because I don’t know their story, but I realized that my lack of judgment also lessened my strength of opinions because I had none! I didn’t want to offend or to seem judgmental. I think with books, authors have the responsibility of showing more than one side, of showing that it’s concern and not baseless judgment. I guess it depends greatly how the writer presents the issue or scene that makes the difference to the readers.

  16. I saw the title of this in my feed and I just had to come play! So I just wrote an article that will be posted sometime next month about all this talk about diverse reading. Which may be a little bit different topic but my main point was we can be so focused on doing something different, we end up doing the same thing. I think what you are talking about is mindless acceptance is unwise. Of course we make judgements, How we deal with those judgements is the key. Great discussion!

    Jessica Samuelsen recently posted: Review – Other Side of The Wall by Jennifer Peel
  17. Way to ask hard questions, Nicole 😉

    Hmm . . . I completely agree with you almost across the board. Especially in the area of Slut Shaming and being concerned about your kids reading choices. I don’t have kids, but I do have a baby sister, so I get it as much as I can without being a parent. Our paths (somewhat) divulge on the topic of drug use, b/c I think it’s stupid. Period. *shrugs* If not the actual drug use (b/c yeah, in the grand scheme of things, pot-smoking is not a huge deal), but the consequences of getting caught? It’s a basic risk vs. reward equation, and for adults (and I realize you’re asking in reference to YA), taking that risk is mind-boggling in my opinion. <——may be somewhat skewed b/c I had open heart surgery when I was a kid, so smoke is waaaaay worse for me than the average bear.

    BUT. I think the most important thing is to be respectful. I'm saying here in this discussion that I think drugs are stupid b/c you asked a direct question. In other circumstances, I probably wouldn't put it so bluntly, and regardless of how I feel about it, I don't negate other people's opinions, and if someone gave me a well thought out argument for why any-of-the-above was okay by them, I'd respect it. That's the key difference to me–do you have good reasons for doing what you're doing? If yes, then who cares what I think? Great post!

  18. That’s a hard question. In a way, you can’t judge people because you don’t know their life experience, you don’t know what lead them to do what they do. But at the same time, I guess there are things everybody can recognize are bad. Like for exemple drinking alcohol. A glass or two of wine every now and then is fine, but drinking a whole bottle by yourself isn’t. It’s not healthy and everybody can realize that. Authors are just regular people like us, they have flaws too. So nothing prevent their writing from sending the wrong messages. People who read their books nedd to use discernment.

    I think nowadays, it’s harder than before because everything and anything is accepted and portrayed in books/TV. And sometimes, you can wonder am I the weird one for disliking this or are other people in the wrong?

  19. This is a great discussion!

    Umm yeah, I know what you mean with the slut shaming and being concerned about a girl who’s making (repeated) bad decisions. But I think that perhaps the point is that “concern” shown by friends (in books or in real life) is often a front for nastiness and jealousy/whatever negative emotion is dredged up when you see a girl who’s “too” popular with boys. And there’s a marked difference in the perception of girls (or women, really) who sleep around and boys/men who do the same. There’s the main problem – at least for me.

    As for the drug use – I just had this conversation with a reader on my blog when I posted the review for The Accident Season, which is absolutely wonderful but does have teenagers smoking (both cigarettes and pot) and drinking. And I said, in my review, that it didn’t bother me because they reminded me so much of myself and my friends in high school (I was a bit of a wild child) but that if you asked me in 10 years, when my Kiddo reaches puberty, I’ll probably be all against it. It’s a tough topic! I mean – I find it unlikely when teenagers in books are all innocent and healthy, because that’s mostly not the case, but I also think it isn’t ok to PROMOTE drug/alcohol use. But people who drank alcohol and smoked pot when they were young do grow up to be responsible adults, too (I think I might be the poster child for this). 🙂

    Ha, so many dilemmas! 🙂

    Kaja recently posted: Reading Translations
  20. Some interesting questions you raise here!
    There are definitely a lot of circumstances where I don’t think it’s okay to judge, but I do believe it is very important to question. I don’t have a problem with someone who sleeps with a lot of different persons, that’s their choice, but I do think that it is okay for friends to ask if he/she is doing it for the right reasons. Are they really doing it because they want to, or are they having problems in some other area of their life and they feel like this is a good way of coping? I think friends who raise such questions aren’t being judgemental, they are just being good friends by protecting their friend from making a decision that she/he might regret later on. In the example you give of the book in which drug use of a boyfriend is discussed I agree with you, I think it’s good that those friends are looking out for her.
    I don’t think YA books should be judgemental, but I do think they should stimulate critical thinking. The main difference between the two is that in case of the former the character is essentially ‘attacked’ and they are defined as a person, while in case of the latter the character is stimulated to question his or her own choices and beliefs and this allows them to show who they are themselves. I think a good book should not necessarily define for you wether something is wrong or not, it should make you ask yourself if you think it is the right decision.

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