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:
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!
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 Perfect—did 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?