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The Difference Between Judging and Valuing

“When we do what we have to do, we are compliant.  When we do what we choose to do, we are committed.” — Marshall Goldsmith

In a world where we are constantly bombarded with decision-making, how often are you making decisions based on judgments, and how often are you choosing based on your values?

Reasoned judgments and values are not the same things.  When you make a judgment, you apply your mind and its ability to evaluate alternatives.  Depending on what you want, you pick what you want.  For example, in deciding what to do on a Saturday evening, you may decide to stay in rather than go out with friends because you have spent a lot of time away from home and want to be with your family.  This is a judgment.  You consider several factors:  how much time you’ve been working, your energy level, what you need to do on Sunday.  You look at the pros and cons of staying in or going out.  For example, if your children have school projects, you haven’t had a family night for several months, you’ve noticed a mood change in your daughter, or your partner seems distant.  You are torn, though, because your friends are having a big celebration and your decision might change.

The ability to use our logical judgments to pick between alternatives is a wonderful human tool.  But in some areas, judgments don’t work very well, and in still other situations, they absolutely cannot work.  Here’s why…

Judgments necessarily involve applying evaluative metrics to alternative action plans.  In the judgment described above, one of the metrics was your children and having school projects.  We have a “good mom” yardstick.  This is true of any evaluative situation.  Once you pick which yardstick to use, picking the best alternative is a mere intellectual judgment.

But what about the yardstick itself?  How was that picked?  If picking the yardstick is itself a judgment (and sometimes it is), that means there is yet another yardstick.  This happens when one purpose is a means to another purpose.  You may use the “being a good mom” as a measure, not because it is an end in itself, but because being a good mom means your children will grow up to be happy adults. 

But how was that yardstick picked? Was “being a good mom” itself a judgment?  It could be, but if it is, there is still some other yardstick that was applied to “being a good mom” because judgment, by definition, involves applying an evaluative yardstick to two or more alternatives.

This cycle could go on forever.  In the end, judgments cannot tell you what yardstick to pick because judgment requires applying an evaluative metric.  

Valuing, however, gives us a place to stop.

The word “values” comes from a Latin root that means “worthy and strong.”  It carries an implication of action, which is why that same root leads to the world’s “wield.”  It connotes actually using what is important and strong.  Values define what you want to pursue from day to day and what you want your life to be about.   In some sense, what’s at stake here is a matter of life and death, or at least the difference between a vital life and a deadened life.

Values are not judgments.  Values are intentional qualities that join together a string of moments into a meaningful path. They are what moments are about, but they are never possessed as objects; they are qualities of unfolding actions.  They are verbs and adverbs, not nouns and adjectives; they are something you do or the quality of something you do, not something you have.  A values-based choice is not linked to an evaluative verbal yardstick.

Are you dizzy from this thinking yet?  There’s a good reason:  minds don’t like choices. Minds know how to apply evaluative yardsticks; in fact, it is the very essence of what these relational abilities evolved to do.  But minds cannot pick the ultimate directions that make all these decisions meaningful.

Choosing what you value and pursuing that path can make your life rich and meaningful, even in the face of great adversity.

To live a valued life is to act in the service of what you value.  It was Bob Dylan who wrote, “you’ve got to serve somebody.”  The question is, who (or what) will you serve?



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