Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Judgements: Do You Make Unfair Ones?

We all judge. All day, every day, every single one of us. Don’t say you don’t. Every time you form an opinion, you make a judgement. That includes bad judgements and good judgements.

And that’s OK, as long as you have a sound basis for the judgement. So… do you? Or are you making unfair judgements?

A fair judgement is, for example, mistrusting someone because they broke a promise, lied to you, or betrayed you. Hey, that’s perfectly justifiable. I almost choked on my coffee when my ex-husband asked why I didn’t trust him after he’d lost count of the number of affairs he’d had.

In short, a fair judgement is one supported by observable behaviour on the part of the individual you are judging. Note behaviour. So physical characteristics are out. And note also supported. You might argue religious affiliations or sexual orientations are observable behaviour, but all too often those behaviours do not support the judgement being made i.e. there is no causal collection.

So here are a couple of crappy judgements I’ve come across lately that really piss me off:
  • My friend is a Certified Practising Accountant. She’s also a single mother, through no fault of her own, and owing to an unpleasant situation with her soon-to-be-ex-husband which no woman in her right mind would (or should) tolerate.

    Apparently, however, being a single mother makes her the least desirable tenant in the rental market. Despite the fact she has a professional-level salary, a rocking personal reference given by yours truly, lawyer extraordinaire, and is more or less the most moral, honest and trustworthy person I know, she can’t find a house to live in. Why? Because she’s a single mother. This, apparently, means she will bring strange men home to the house she is living in.

    Hello, judgement some? You’re basically calling every single mother a cheap, stupid whore, which is grossly insulting to my friend and, I imagine, other single mothers (@cmajaski, put up your hand! I’m sure you are insulted). For some reason, single mothers rank as less desirable than single fathers, notwithstanding those single fathers may be strange men. Go figure.
  • Sneaky racism – years before he met me, my husband was dating a Korean Australian girl. She called it off because her parents didn’t approve of my husband. Why? Because he’s white (or possibly, more generally, non-Korean). Now, if this was a white person not allowing their child to marry, well, anyone who wasn’t white, it would be racism of the grossest kind. I saw another example of this recently when a friend of a friend of a colleague (did you catch all that?) was forbidden by her Indian parents to see the non-Indian man she was dating.

    I don’t know what the history is to these attitudes.I don’t purport to judge. And I'm not saying that these kind of attitudes are any worse than racism by whites against other cultures. But in my experience (in this country at least) there is more focus on racism by whites against other races and cultures than there is a focus on eliminating discrimination of all kinds, including racism against whites by some individuals. I know there are some who will be inclined to have little pity for Caucasians with their history of racism against others, but this shouldn't be a tit for tat game. It should be the same rules for everyone and a concerted effort to fix the errors of the past.   

    The simple point is individuals should be judged on their own merits, and not based on the actions of other members of their race, gender, religion, profession, demographic etc. I’m not saying this is easy. It can be very hard, and sometimes it’s much easier to fall into old habits.

    One example of how easy it is to fall into the trap of being racist is in Australia, where many companies outsource call centres to India and the Philippines. This is done for cost effectiveness so I suspect that training might not be top-notch. As a result, customers may get less than stellar service when they contact such centres. Is this the fault of the staff? No, it’s the fault of the company. Is it tempting to blame the staff? Yes, of course, and it's easy - easier than blaming a faceless company. I won’t deny that many Australians do blame the staff, and therefore have a negative attitude to Indians or Filipinos in general. Is this acceptable? No, and I do not condone it in any way. I try not to fall into those attitudes myself. I try to give every person a fair chance to prove themselves to me on their own merits, and not on the basis of any assumptions that could be made. Is that easy to do, all the time? No, and so we must all be ever vigilant against generalisations.

    If we want to give equality a fair go, we all need to stop being racist. And sexist, and any other number of –ists.  No judgement of any person based on their skin colour, country of origin, or hell, while we’re at it, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other characteristic not directly tied to their own individual personality, is not on, people. Stereotyping, in my opinion, simply isn’t acceptable, no matter who is doing the stereotyping or being stereotyped.  
Is someone judging you? Or someone you love? What’s your pet peeve judgement?

Vector - Goddess of Judgements - Not this kind, I think....

This is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge Series. If you missed the previous posts, you can find them here - A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I.

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Jeremy Bates said...

Yes, we all make unfair judgments at times. Some of that is misdirected at people of the same race or sex based on previous experience, and that is wrong.

My pet peeve is native Filipinos believing I am a sex tourist because I happen to be living and teaching in the Philippines right now. Are there many of the sex tourists here? Yes. I see 60 year old men with 18 year old gals, but that's their business. I just don't like to be lumped in with them.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It IS hard work to remember that abad experience with one person doesn't equate bad experiences with all of the same sex/race, no doubt.

Ouch, sex tourist? That's a bad one! I don't blame you for not wanting to be lumped in that category unfairly.

Lora M said...

I was with you until the paragraph about Indians. Before that I definitely agree, particularly about that utter hogwash regarding single mothers. UGH that's just disgusting.

However, that last bit threw me. Frankly, the whole thing read as quite unintentionally racist, particularly when used with the ism-bingo bonus square, "I'm not ____ist, I have friends who are _____". Even if you're serious, it really just sounds like a cop-out, and the rest of the paragraph doesn't do much better:

It’s not that we’re racist against Indians [...], it’s just that we spend too much time on the phone to Indian call centres trying and failing to resolve whatever our problem is.

I'm confused as to what this is communicating here. Australians aren't racist, they just dislike call centres? Ergo they ... do what, exactly? Make racist remarks? Treat Indians badly? But it's okay, because it's only because of those call centre experiences? It feels like a slippery slope, brought about by delineating the difference between "being racist" and "doing racist things because of [reasons]" -- ie, "we don't hate Indians, we just have bad experiences with them that make us ACT like we hate them, but it's their fault, really".

It feels like a backhanded justification for people who dislike Indians, saying that no, no, that's not true, they just act that way because of interactions with Indians. Or, alternately, they just dislike the companies who outsource to India, though I'm not sure whether this is because you disapprove of exploitative hiring practices and the unfair wages forced upon foreign workers in these scenarios, or because it means you have to talk to second-language speakers and deal with sub-par service. Anyway.

It would be wrong of me to dislike all Indians because of those call centre experiences. But apparently it’s OK for them to think we are poor marriage material.

It continues here.

You do say that it would be wrong of you to hate all Indians because of these bad experiences. I'm glad for that! Unfortunately, the paragraph then falls right back into its own trap by using the othering and generalising "them", saying that all Indians think white people are poor marriage material -- this statement based on the third-hand experience of one set of parents? If you meant this friend of a friend of a colleague's parents specifically, you should say so, because otherwise, this is textbook stereotyping language.

The bottom line is, you're obviously a very nice, open-minded person, but this paragraph, as written, really feels like ingrained, implicit (and therefore unrealised) racism. I'm absolutely not calling you racist, but I do think that if you want to talk about race, it might help to change the tone of the discussion. If this is meant to spark a discussion about the dangers of stereotyping, especially when talking about making unfair judgements, perhaps using a three-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon anecdote followed by a sweeping cultural generalisation is not the best way to go about this?

Two-cents-turned-into-five-dollars, sorry!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this, because I do appreciate the feedback. I can see what you mean now that you mention it, and as I mentioned on Twitter, it's not what was intended. I'm a little horrified it can read this way. To clarify (and I will be amending the blog post above to rectify the issues):

1) Yes, some Australians are racist. No, that's not OK. I was using the call centre example to demonstrate that negative experiences UNRELATED to race can cause racism when people fall into the trap of generalising. It's not acceptable.

2) No, not all Indians think non-Indians are bad marriage material, and I certainly never intended to suggest as much. I know Australians of Indian descent (born in Australia, but with Indian parents) who have married non-Indians. But yes, there is SOME of this attitude in existence. I don't consider it to be any more acceptable than Australians who judge Indians based on call centre experiences, which was where I was trying to go with that line of thought.

Bottom line - no one should be stereotyping anyone else, no matter what justification they think they have. It's equally bad for any person to do this to another person, BUT I'm not trying to say I'm perfect and I can do this all the time or easily. I don't want to suggest I'm somehow better than others, and as demonstrated, in this case I have accidentally fallen into the trap of appearing to generalise. What I wanted to say is it's easy to fall into bad habits and we all of us need to be constantly vigilant against stereotyping.

Unfortunately those who know me well will not hesitate to say tact is not one of my strong points, and regrettably this does make me prone to run my mouth without thought for how others might interpret it (particularly those who don't know me as well). I do try to take care with my blog posts, but time pressures in the A to Z Blogging Challenge haven't left me with the leisure to review my posts as carefully as I otherwise might. Fortunately this seems to be the first case of foot in mouth syndrome.

I hope the changes I make to the post will help to clarify the true intent.

Tom Stronach said...

Great post. I jump to judgements all the time, sadly, but then happily find that my first inclination to think that someone was a bit of a tosser, was correct.

Bit Like Lora M really, my judgement of her is, well frankly, a bit of a tit. I read all of the article and agree with every single word. I think my friend Mani an Indian from the sub continent by birth, and who regularly visits the 'motherland' will testify that I am far from being a racist but, he like me, and apparently Ciara and millions of frustrated people around the world go into immediate apoplectic meltdown as soon as the call is answered and we determine that it is somewhere on the sub continent.

We rant at their inability to understand our use of colloquialisms, that we use without thinking about. About their inability to understand our, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Australian, Cockney, Geordie accents, And while we may take our frustration out at them the real target is the moronic company who outsourced in the first place.

And while we understand that English is a pretty universal language, I have watched a lot of documentaries of visits to India and found that many of those Indians taking part, speak perfect, grammatical, enunciated English, and I could listen to them reading the phone directory as their voices are so wonderful but, unfortunately none of them are employed in bloody call centres.

And the point made about no hue and cry being made about 'reverse racism', is correct, as it would be called racism to mention it in today's PC world.

So while Lora M graciously accepts that the author was not being racist it was then a bit rich to get on a high horse about the use of the language as a descriptive tool, don't ya think

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks, Tom, it's nice to know that you understood the point I was trying to make. You must have snuck in just before I changed it! In any case, I've modified it to hopefully avoid misunderstandings. I don't mind being called on a stance, and I'll defend it if it's what I believe in, but what was perceived by Lora M (rightly or wrongly) was not in fact what I was trying to say. In this circumstance, I think it's better to clarify what I was trying to say, rather than waste my time on explaining what I was trying to say. I apologise if that means there is a loss to those of my readers who DO understand what I'm trying to say.

You're a gem, Tom!

Lora M said...

Ahhh, for what it's worth, your intentions are much clearer in the new version. Obviously you didn't owe me or anyone else a rewrite -- particularly if other readers like Tom understood your original meaning (I actually can't tell which version he saw) -- but all the same, I'm happy you did. I was also impressed that you responded in such a professional manner after a random commenter got all up in your face over something you weren't actually saying. *grin*

I completely agree with the new version, by the way. Everyone engages in random generalizations and stereotypes whether we realize it or not, and by framing your experiences with call centers in the manner, it makes your intended point much clearer.

Lora M said...

I'm actually not sure what you mean by that last bit about language. Would you mind elaborating? (I'm also not sure whether the "bit of a tit" was at me, or at the person in the anecdote, but if it was at me, I'd be happy to defend myself against the charges. :P)

If you read the new version of the article before making this comment, I should point out that I fully agree with it. No arguments here! :)

Lora M said...

On second thought, it doesn't actually matter, and this is Ciara's blog. She was generous enough to respond to my comments, so I won't push it. ;)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Definitely, no rewrites owed, but I'd much rather make it clear what was intended than have some people get the wrong idea, and I do worry how many people may have gotten the wrong idea and not said anything. Certainly Tom got the right interpretation, but he does know me better than some. for my own peace of mind, I'd rather amend, and I'm glad the new version is clearer.

Professionalism is the name of the game. It gets you a lot further than random and misdirected anger. I try to be professional in all my online dealings, and I'm glad it's something that is appreciated. It does no one any favours, least of all myself, if I'm unprofessional.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to bring this to my attention. It's much better to resolve the issue than have it be a continuing problem.

Jolie du Pre said...

As an African American woman I don't wait for others to be less racist. My self-esteem and intelligence is high, and therefore, racist people mean nothing to me. That is the solution I give to anyone - strengthen your self-confidence and you'll find ignorant people will have little to no influence on your life. (No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt)

(It's no wonder I love monsters. They just shake their heads at the stupid ways humans behave.)

Jolie du Pre
Precious Monsters

sharkbytes said...

Excellent post, but I do confess that when I get a call center with someone who can't speak English well enough for me to even understand, I make a judgement that this person can't help me. They may be a great person, they may even know their job, but communication is just too difficult.

Pauleen said...

I am finding your posts both informative, reflective and challenging. In short I like your attitude and the topics you discuss. The sad thing about outsourcing is that it's too easy to blame the person on the end of the phone, rather than the company doing the outsourcing and devolving their responsibilities. I rarely find I can't actually understand the person on the end of the phone. Have you seen the recent movie, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" which touches on this issue.

Sue Roebuck said...

Hi, popping in from the A-Z (I saw you on Twitter!). We're always being judged for something or other: at school, at work, by our relatives, friends. I live in a country that I wasn't born in and I've been subject to criticism or intolerance. I'm subject to judgement because I write (she's too important for us now, say some friends with sarcasm). My first novel was about two men - phew!!! You should've heard the comments I received about that.

Janeisaac said...

This is a great post Ciara, and I'm totally with you on judging people on their merits. Interesting point - some of the UK call centres have also been outsourced to the East, but I read the other day that many (including a large phone chain) are being brought back home because people are having problems understanding the staff that man them and complaining.

DC said...

Oh geez, Ciara. Now, every time, I'm turning down a single mother for my rental, I'm going to feel the need to explain, "Look, it's not you, it's the apartment. It's less than 500 sq ft, lady, and it only has one bedroom. Look, I turn down couples, too. I swear, I have nothing against single moms...I have a lot friends who are single moms."

I'm sweating already. :)

June said...

I think a lot of people keep secrets or hide things from their friends because they're afraid of getting judged... I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my promiscuous friend won't tell me she's promiscuous (I know from mutual friends :x). But this post makes me think about it a little deeper... I guess in some ways you're judging the friend you won't tell. I'm very open to all lifestyles even if they aren't my own. In a way, she's judging me as a prude and well, judgmental person... just by trying to keep herself from getting judged. :x Interesting. I do still wonder if I should just clear the air for her!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

That's a convoluted trail! But I can see what you mean, and you're right. I've had similar issues with people I know. Sometimes, you have to judge - if you're asked for advice, you must necessarily make a judgement call. But if the recipient doesn't like the advice, they may not then discuss that issue with you again. We could go round and round in circles with this!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Oh, D.C., you're too funny! I wouldn't sweat it too much ;-)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks, Jane. We've had a bit of the same here, but of course, government lagging behind as it does, a lot of our government call centres are now being considered for overseas outsourcing just as the private sector is considering bringing them back home!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I was judged within an inch of my life at school, I was the quintessential nerd. I've been judged as a woman, my faourite being 'I'm smarter than you because I'm a man, and you're a woman'. I'm happy to defend myself on my own merits, but I object to being judged based on thingsothers have done.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thank you. You are quite correct, we tend to lash out at the available person, which is the customer service representative rather than the company. I haven't seen the movie, I shall have to look it up!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I don't think that's an unfair judgement. No matter how good they are at their job, they can't help you if they can't understand the issue. It would be an unfair judgement to assume that every person of that nationality can't speak good English because of an experience with another person, but it's not unfair to rate someone on their own skills. I had an experience with a call centre that went like this:

ME: 'You don't need to send out a technician. The cables are all in place, you just need to configure it at the exchange."
REP: "Yes, that's why we are sending out the tecnician."

Clearly she didn't at all understand what I'd just said to her, and I got this issue resolved ONLY because my Dad works for Telstra and so I was able to diagnose my own problem and advise the call centre how to fix it. That's clearly not good service, and that's the company's fault, but it is also a fact that this woman's English skills weren't suitable for the role she was in. But I don't assume every other person of her nationality (or every other woman, for that matter) can't speak English.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

You're right that we shouldn't allow others judgements to bother us. I don't take a judgement personally, allow it to affect me or my self-esteem, but it annoys me that people think it's OK to make those judgements. It just shouldn't happen.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

You've been most gracious, Lora. Thank you.

Rossithepunk said...

Great post and very thought-provoking. Like the single mum thing, I found it really difficult to find somewhere to live when I was a student, as I didn't live in the city I went to university. Despite being five years older than the average student they assumed I would be badly behaved and hold wild parties. If only I'd had the time or the energy and wasn't, you know, trying to educate myself...

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