The Non-judgmental Practitioner

Thoreau famously stated, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

In discerning about how to write this blog – in my reflections and prayers (yes, I pray – or at least try to) – I have thought hard about how to describe being non-judgmental without coming across as, well, judgmental.

Rabbi Hillel in Ethics of the Fathers is quoted as saying, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.” In the 7th Chapter of the Matthew in the New Testament it reads, “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Am I suggesting you have to be religious or spiritual to understand judgment and the importance of non-judgment? No. I just happen to think these particular pieces provide guidance to me on how I think about how to be a non-judgmental practitioner.

Am I willing to accept that how homeless (or formerly homeless) people in my community live their lives is not something that I can or should judge? Or do my own values influence how I see the issue? Can I frame my thinking from an ethical standpoint (rules within a specific context to determine what is right or wrong)? Or do my morals override (how things should work or be understood as right or wrong based upon my individual ideals)?

Some examples…

  • You live an abstinent lifestyle but have service participants that use alcohol and other drugs. Your own morals may suggest abstinence is best – perhaps because of your own personal experience or religious beliefs.
  • You are personally against abortion and believe that life starts at conception. The laws of the land indicate that abortion is legal, and you may have female clients that are seeking assistance with knowing the whereabouts of an abortion clinic.
  • You believe that sex outside of marriage is sinful. Yet unmarried clients you are supporting may be seeking condoms to prevent disease or pregnancy.
  • You are against corporal punishment. However, it remains legal in domestic/home settings where you live. You see parents spanking or hand-slapping their children after the child has done something wrong.

See my point?

I have come to accept that I am remarkably flawed human being. I have so many faults that I am on the precipice of being perfectly imperfect. Do I want to be judged? Goodness knows I judge myself plenty. I don’t need someone else doing it too. I know the areas of my life that I suck at…some are a work in progress, some are on the to-do list, and others are on the “I have accepted it will always be there and now let’s move on” list.

But it isn’t because I have an exhaustive list of defects that I cannot and will not judge others.

It is because I have learned to accept that the people I serve will be different than me. This makes them no better or worse – just different. There are laws and due processes that we, as a society, have put into place to deal with the bigger stuff like murder and abuse and victimization and exploitation. The other stuff? Unless I am ready to hold a mirror shoulder high and say it to myself (gulp) I am certainly not in a position to pass any commentary on others. I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes nor can I point out the sawdust in their eye when there is a log in my own. Or from the wisdom of Thoreau, am I willing to see all the strengths and opportunities within the person, or is what I see only the defects and shortcomings and past mistakes? Guess it depends on what I see. I hope to see the good in everyone.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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