Reflection 295: Judgment

July 20, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin. (Six photos included.)

If it weren’t for our judgment, we’d all be dead. At least we get some things right, no matter what situation we’re in. Our day-to-day survival is proof that we possess a smattering of judgment at least. But for that smattering, we’d be dead.

That is, things are not necessarily as dire as I presented them in my last post—everything up in the air because we are trapped in situations of our own doing, so can’t watch ourselves as we make ourselves happen, like a helmsman on the open ocean without a compass.

But we do have a kind of compass to steer by, our own hard-won judgment. Not inherited, not bought off the shelf (like a college curriculum), but earned through the trial-and-error method of making every mistake in the book until we finally get the message. With all that experience behind us, if we paid attention as we went, then the residue of our prior mistakes will remind us what we want to avoid now, so we slowly advance on a course between the submerged ledges we know from experience lie all around us.

As near as I can tell, our word judgment stems from the Latin iudicare, meaning, basically, to point the index finger. That gesture is an outward and visible sign of what happens in our minds when we come to a clear realization. Whether we point up into the air or at a specific person, we have come to clarity about the way ahead. The process by which we reach that point is called judgment. We have found a way out of our situation of perplexity, so are ready in our minds to move on to the next stage toward decisive action.

That turning point is the pivot about which our loops of engagement redirect the attentive and perceptual side of our consciousness toward taking physical action. Toward behavior; doing something in the world. That is the ah-ha moment when the mists rise and our situation becomes clear. We know what to do, and are free to set about doing it. The only way to get to that point is through the trial of personal judgment.

I’m going to join the Navy. I’m going to marry the guy. I’m going to quit school and ride my bike around the world. Whatever we decide, we have to gather the evidence, ponder it, and judge what we think is best for us. Individually, we are the deciders who turn sensory impressions into situations into courses of action through exercise of our personal judgment, or not, as may be the case.

Many decisions to act are grounded on personal fears, impulses, or whims, not considered judgments. The essence of an education is learning to convert the former into the latter through realization that actions have consequences, some desirable, some not. We don’t know that when young, so have to find our way between (or be steered away from) dangerous situations in which we, unwittingly, can become our own enemies. Judgment, not knowledge, is the true aim of education.

We earn judgment through personal experience, so it becomes ours for life; so-called knowledge is time-sensitive, forgettable, and often based more on opinion than fact. Schools teaching doctrine or ideology can do more harm than good. Schools based on developing personal judgment through having students discover where their personal decisions take them—such schools deliver an education for a lifetime of application.

The art of converting situations into solutions through applied judgment is in developing the skill to rise above your limited experience of yourself and your world to obtain a larger view of the issues and terrain that surround you. By broadening the horizon within which you live, you come to appreciate the ways of the world beyond what you are already familiar with.

The flight I recently made in a small plane to photograph the watershed of Taunton Bay provided me just such an educational experience. I was intimately familiar with an island in the bay, and somewhat familiar with the bay itself through years of research and discovery, but the watershed was largely a mystery to me until I made a deliberate effort to transcend my traditional, earthly perspective so I could look down with the eyes of an eagle. It wasn’t that the watershed hadn’t been there all along, it’s that I had to go beyond myself in becoming a new person who could appreciate what was there.

To end this post, I will include six images from that flight focused on the flow of fresh water into the bay, photos that greatly expand the range of sensory impressions and situations over which I feel my judgment can be trusted.


What a ride! I am a larger person than I was because my judgment concerning watershed affairs now applies within a wider horizon than it did before the flight. For me, land uses within that horizon now include: forestry, sand pits, blueberry barrens, agriculture, transmission lines, roadways, cemeteries, residential and commercial development, ball fields, bogs and other wetlands, great ponds, mountain slopes, and conservation lands. I have been there and seen them. Thank you, Friends of Taunton Bay, and B. D.-B. (who helped pay for the ride).

In one 48-minute flight, by studying the lay of the land, I saw how the bay was situated, an island in that bay was situated, and I was situated when on that island. Childhood is usually the time for growing into our homelands. Here I am at 79, still growing, still widening my horizons, still striving to improve my judgments on things that matter—such as my inner life, even my mind itself. I call that lifelong learning. What shocks me is how early in life some people stop learning and start telling others what they should do and how they should live.

Sensory impressions, situations, judgments, action—that’s why I have a mind to help me navigate through life. My one, particular life. My guess is that the same is true for you. As ever, I remain y’r friend, –Steve

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