A drop of water, by Kam Chuen Dung
By Edgar Lores
I made a throwaway comment on the judgmental disability of Filipinos, and JoeAm suggested why don’t I write about it? And so I have . . .
My comment was prompted by @Juana Pilipinas’ statement that she was a “tad skeptical about Filipinos’ decision-making ability.” The entirety of my response was:
“Tad? That’s very generous, Juana.
“The judgmental disability is huge… from the verdant fields and hills to the halls of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and all the way up to the Supreme Court bench.
“I would attribute this to four things: (a) the lack of principles; (b) the lack of criteria; (c) the lack of reasoning power; and (d) selfish or factional interests.”
Thus here we are.
Despite the biblical injunction not to judge — and let’s not forget Pope Francis’ rhetorical and reflective question of “Who am I to judge?” — we pass judgment constantly.
I think the oft-quoted biblical injunction is misinterpreted. It is impossible to live in the modern world without making judgments. We no longer live in an era of arranged marriages and hereditary kings. We are confronted with important choices now and then, if not every day, and we are forced to make decisions. To make wise ones we are compelled to judge.
How then do make at least good judgments, if not wise, judgments?
Judgment is defined as “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.”
I think the operative terms are “considered decisions” and “sensible conclusions.” We make decisions from the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed. What to eat for breakfast. What dress to wear. What way to take to the office. What TV show to watch. What time to sleep. These decisions, while important, do not rise to the level of judgment.
I remember an old Reader’s Digest joke which I would update in the following vein: The husband says, “I let my wife make all the minor decisions, like what house to buy and where the children go to school. I decide the major ones… like whether to allow China to grab the Spratly’s.”
And yet I take exception to the word “considered” because we do make automatic judgments all the time without a moment’s pause or consideration. When we meet a new person, we know, at a glance, whether we like them or not. Women think, “Is this man husband material?” And men go, “Is this girl edible?” And the judgment is made… instantaneously. We can intuit the possibility of love, friendship, indifference or hate… at first sight.
Poets say it is a matter of Cupid’s arrow and scientists a matter of pheromones. If we take the time to reflect on our instant judgments, we might identify the elements that go into them. I confess I don’t know how women see things — women are such magnificent and inscrutable creations — so I will go with the male perspective.
Now, why do we go grrr at one girl and meh to another? Well, we all have different preferences that shape our judgment. Some men like gams. Some like front, er, bumpers, others rear bumpers. Some like blondes, others brunettes. But it could also be the presence of dimples or the shape of the mouth. You know, that certain smile.
But judgment is more than a considered or automatic decision. It must also be a sensible conclusion. After our first judgment of attraction, does the attraction last? Does the other become our significant other? We discover that other factors come into play such as attitudes, interests, family circumstances and personality. And, if the planets and stars align, the sensibility of our conclusions drags us to the point of offering or accepting a proposal of intimate relations in whatever form.
Still a passage of time later – days, months, years — the sensibility of our conclusions may be challenged by the lessening, or even overturned by the severance, of our intimacy. But that is another story.
I think it is fair to say that all judgmental disabilities are rooted in ignorance. We misjudge because we do not know. (Cue: The blind men and the elephant story.)
However, if we look back at that scenario of meeting a new person, the personal preferences we have pointed to an important element of judgment — that of criteria.
We do use criteria in assessing a person, whether we do it consciously or not.
In essence, explicit criteria objectify choice. And criteria are widely used to evaluate the choice of “objects” from soft drinks’ blind-taste tests to beauty pageants.
But the thing is we do not use criteria when we should… especially in making important decisions. This is one major cause of our judgmental disability. We do not “count the ways” but tend to go by gut feeling or intuition.
It is a simple matter to keep in mind or write down desirable qualities in judging a person, product or process. The modern world has provided us with many decision-making tools — such as spreadsheets, decision tables, decision trees — and methodologies — such as SWOT analysis, four-quadrant analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and Pareto analysis. I would go as far as to include such methodologies as rational choice theory and game theory, methodologies that use mathematical models to obtain optimal decisions in many areas including economics and computer science.
If one has had the chance to visit match-making websites for whatever reason — and I don’t judge you! — one will note that these sites use different sets of criteria, which may include hobbies, interests, and the all-important vital statistics.
In the evaluation of political candidates, one can begin with Robredo’s standards of “matino at mahusay” or move up to, say, the filters listed in @Juana Pilipinas’ post “Why Making the Right Choice in the 2016 Election is Crucial”. (I note this post trended before the elections.)
JoeAm’s post “Now Seeking Applications for the President of the Philippines” is another good and realistic example of assessing the qualifications of candidates.
(Incidentally, we are missing a postmortem post on the elections: the winnability factors that led to election defeat and victory… with the exception of the influence of social media.)
One may use a list of criteria as a simple checklist, ticking off each standard that applies. However, a clearer picture and choice may emerge through scoring. Scoring involves (a) the qualitative scale of, say, good, fair and excellent; or (b) the quantitative scale of, say, 1 to 5. The former is appropriate when appraising a single object, but the latter is best when appraising multiple objects. To further improve decision making, one may employ criteria weighting to give emphasis to certain factors. For example, for a given job, the criterion of “intelligence” might be more relevant than “education” and, on balance, “experience” might be more relevant than “intelligence.”
Be aware the use of criteria methodologies is not foolproof in arriving at good decisions. Some of the pitfalls are misidentified criteria, inaccurate scoring, and the inability to capture factors that are not assessable qualities of the objects themselves but of the milieu.
But while we may use a set of criteria in arriving at good judgments, we may still falter because we have missed a basic principle.
If criteria are the answer to the question of how to make good judgments, principles are the answer to the question of why judgments, in the final analysis, can be adjudged bad, good or wise.
A principle is defined as a “fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.”
The operative terms are “fundamental truth or proposition” and “foundation.” Both criteria and principles can be classified as standards, as notions of ideality. The distinction is that principles are more basic than criteria. They provide, as it were, the baseline, the proper context in which judgments should be made. Principles are the stones upon which you stand and criteria the filtered lenses through which you see.
When faced with a tough decision, the question I invariably myself ask is, “What is the basic principle involved here?”
And I find that to be able to answer this question, I must first properly categorize the issue at hand. Is this a human rights issue? Or is it a law and order issue? Is this a purely political issue? Or is it primarily a moral issue? Is this a “soft” issue where empathy and compassion can apply? Or is it a “hard” issue where the law and its penalties must apply?
Here one begins to see the roots of the confusion that beset us. And the confusion is increased not only in our application of the wrong context and principle but also in the absence of the application of any principle.
To be sure, to claim there is a total absence of principle is inaccurate. The turncoatism of Filipino politicians rests on the Darwinian principles of survival. Nevertheless, we say there is an absence because elected politicians are expected to practice a higher set of principles. The Constitution provides that public servants must serve the people “with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
Where are the responsibility, integrity and loyalty in defection? Turncoatism illustrates my fourth cause of judgmental disability, that of selfish or factional interests… when criteria and principles and reason are thrown to the wind.
The question arises: Where do we find principles?
We find principles everywhere. We find them in the natural world. We find them embedded in religious and secular law. We find them in the memes of culture. We find them in books, in the measured lines of poets, the insights of philosophers, and the wisdom of sages. We learn them in school. And, hopefully, we learn them on the knees of our parents and grandparents.
Apart from miscategorization, principles have one other main pitfall. It would seem that for every given principle there is an equal and opposite principle. To resolve this conflict, to decide the right principle, we are thrown back to the use of the right criteria. Additionally, we must depend on the use of right reasoning, the lack of which is our third cited cause for judgmental disability. Let us look at two instructive examples of conflicting and misapplied principles.
In the just concluded election, two conflicting principles were cited to accept or reject Poe’s candidacy. The Latin maxim quoted to accept was, “Vox populi, vox Dei.” And the Latin maxim to reject was, “Dura lex, sed lex.” I am certain your opinion differs from mine but my reasoning did not detect any contradiction between these two maxims.
Here is my reasoning. If we grant the voice of the people is the voice of God and has primacy, isn’t it true the Constitution was ratified by the people? And granting this is so, isn’t it also true the Constitution specifies only natural born citizens are allowed to run for the presidency? Therefore, there is no conflict: the first principle leads ineluctably to the second principle, and both observed. In this case, if a foundling is not a natural born citizen — and this was the crux of the issue (which the Supreme Court has not formally resolved) — then Poe should have been disqualified.
In the case of misused principles, let me refer once more to the same case. Again, you may agree or disagree. Newly appointed Justice Francis Jardeleza argued the citizenship issue was one of human rights, that the Constitution does not discriminate against foundlings. To my mind, the issue was simply one of qualifications for candidacy. A basic principle of constitutional construction is that provisions are mutually consistent. This means that one cannot use one part of the Constitution — in this case, human rights — to argue against another part of the Constitution — in this case, qualifications for candidacy. One cannot assume internal inconsistency, and should it seem to exist, perhaps the rule to observe is that specific provisions override general provisions.
Where there are conflicting principles, one should dig deeper and unearth an underlying and more primary principle.
Disagreements naturally lead us to perhaps the strongest reason for judgmental disability — that of reasoning power.
Before I discuss this, let me make one more comparison to highlight the difference between criteria and principles. In a decision matrix, criteria would have allowed us to score Binay as the tailender, but principles should have prevented us (and him) from seriously considering him as a candidate.
It is not that people do not have reasoning power or do not use reason in passing judgments and making choices. It is that they often make choices for the wrong reasons.
There are two aspects of reasoning power that are significant: (a) the proper use of logic and (b) the avoidance of fallacies.
We have two reasoning centers: heart and mind. Often the logic of the heart and mind coincide, but sometimes they do not. The first uses emotional reasoning and the second cold reason. Women are heart-centered and men mind-centered.
I think, in general, Filipinos are heart-centered.
I base this observation on the articles and commentary in news and social media. Without analyzing the logic of these items, the style and tone alone tell me heart rather than mind (or the brain) is the dominant organ.
Then when one analyzes the logic, one uncovers various types of fallacies. The most prevalent fallacies would be (a) ad hominems; (b) the appeal to authority; and (c) red herring fallacies, which I refer to as deviations, deflections and befogging.
JoeAm has done a good job as moderator to lessen ad hominems in this forum. But they continue to flourish… in their subtlest forms.
I find the appeal to authority fallacy is in vogue even on this site as shown by the number of (a) links and (b) images. The use of images may seem particularly persuasive — subliminally that is in accordance with the maxim “to see is to believe” — but while I appreciate the effort and the entertainment, I am at times irritated.
I will not give examples of poor reasoning less I get lynched. Suffice it to say one can check one’s own reasoning by familiarizing one’s self with the different types of fallacies and playing the role of devil’s advocate to one’s ideas and opinions. This is good training; it gives us the ability to see the world with clarity in 360 degrees.
While I said we constantly judge at the beginning, there are people (and things) we do not judge. Who do we not judge? Family and close friends. If our loved ones do wrong, there is no question of forgiveness… because there is nothing to forgive. And even when the wrong is directed at us, we may remonstrate, but eventually, we are reconciled. Perhaps this is the reason for the biblical injunction. If everyone is our brother or sister, why judge?
Again we meet with paradox: judgments allow us to live and no judgments allow us to love.
Let me rephrase that: judgments allow us to live in order to love, and no judgments allow us to love in order to live.
The circle of progression in making judgments goes something like this. We are presented with choices, and we must make a judgment as to the best choice. Whatever choice we make crystallizes into a decision. Whatever decision we take translates into reality, win or lose. Whatever reality comes into existence bears consequences for us and everyone. And whatever consequences unfold, we are again presented with new choices.
Good consequences usually result from good judgments… and bad consequences from bad judgments.
Therefore, let us take great care in forming opinions and judgments.