As well as the nice readers that wouldn’t be so judgmental.
Years ago, when I was still trudging through somewhere between 15-19 credits and working overnights trying to get the only Bachelor that would stick around in print, a college professor gave us an assignment to watch a video series (which I’ve referenced in past articles) about a group of children from different socioeconomic, cultural, and educational backgrounds, and then write about it. Of course, we were instructed to analyze their current situation and predict their future situation. Our guiding questions were the following:
- Were you able to predict their situation? (From the beginning of the series to the end.)
- Which factors seemed critical in influencing their lives?
- How did socioeconomic status, race and gender shape their dreams for the future?
- How do homes and neighborhoods reflect (or not reflect) their identities?
- How do hopes for the future and/or self-perceptions change over time? Which values and perceptions seemed to change most?
Educational institutions, and the social sciences and services in particular, often get a bad rap for getting too caught up in “analyzing” something without actually solving it.
As a Psychology-turned-Human Development major, I somewhat agreed with this assumption. Psychology majors, besides being flipping nuts, seemed like the type of people who — for the most part — could pick apart every aspect of person or a society issue for hours without actually discussing solutions. Of course, evidence-based practices are nothing but solution-oriented, practical applications of copious studies and research.
I chose Human Development ultimately because it seemed like a more straightforward approach to solving the problems within systems. Working under the assumption that mental health is largely dependent upon systematic operations that control people’s access to Healthcare, Resources, Education, and Housing, we pondered the effects of policies upon the average American’s position in the socioeconomic food chain. In essence, we picked apart the flaws and strengths to find solutions, and—in the process—all confirmed what we already knew: We are not a classless society.
By the time I’d graduated, I’d come to the conclusion that I had been judging my Psychology-oriented peers unfairly. We were both analyzing the problems seemingly cemented within the foundations of humanity, but on different levels and with different goals.
Psychology aims to understand why people do what they do, and then develop ways in which we can alter and shape behavior based upon this understanding. Human Development (and Human Services) is a field that focuses on understanding the underlying systems by which people operate, and in turn changing those systems to better the wellbeing of the individuals who abide by those governing structures.
So often we forget to take that step of analytical thought. We skip straight from the observation to the judgment, and this not only zaps our critical thinking skills and produces a (likely) negative outcome, but burdens our emotional state as well.
People who are judgmental are largely negative in their judgements, and if there’s one thing we’ve heard over and over again, it’s that the negativity that so effortlessly seeps out through our cynical asides and pithy comments literally shortens our lives.
The effects of chronic negativity (which often leads to depression) are as follows:
- A compromised immune system, according to a study at Carnegie Mellon University (David Hamilton, PhD)
- 50 percent higher chance of an early death (The Mayo Clinic)
- Higher risk of heart disease (Dispositional Optimism, November 2004, which features a Dutch Study citing the cardiovascular health of nearly 1,000 participants 65 years and older)
Perhaps ironically, many naturally analytical folks would describe themselves as pessimistic or cynical, and many optimists might describe themselves as the kind of person who takes things at face value. But I can’t really buy this.
To analyze something is to be searching for answers. Curiosity, when fed properly, is a beast that simply grows bigger and breeds more curiosity. And the byproduct is usually knowledge. Knowledge, as the old saying goes, is power. Power gives you options, and those options are utilized most sensibly and productively by someone who is searching for answers. Did that just come full circle?
One of my favorite quotes is Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise and cutting statement that “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Her words are another wonderfully articulate way of saying, “Don’t just judge. Examine.”
We can’t know enough about most people to really analyze them, right? We can analyze human behavior, but it is very hard to pick apart your neighbor, Chad, and his habit of letting his dog poop on your lawn without coming to a swift and judgmental response. We might discuss his negligence as a pet owner until we’re blue in the face. Or, we could discuss the event. “Every morning, at 6 a.m., that dog runs right over to my yard and takes a dump.” Lastly, we could discuss an idea. We may bring up the notion of mutual respect for people and their property, and discuss this with Chad.
“Chad, I don’t shit on your lawn. If I did, I’d pick it up before you accidentally stepped in it or found it on your kid’s tennis shoe. This is because I respect you and your space, and I’d like some equity here. Does it seem fair to you that I have to worry about a dog I don’t own leaving excrement on my lawn?”
That’s a terrible example of the conversation you might have with Chad, but I’m not a screenwriter (or a terribly sensitive human being). However, the point of the conversation is to direct both people to ponder an idea and come to a mutual understanding.
There is so much more room for questions and analysis, and it doesn’t have to be confined to a college campus. There’s even room for more Psych majors. So go ahead kids, knock yourselves out with that DSM-V.
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Editor’s Note: In defense of the author: the title and sub-title were not written by her.
Top photo: Screen shot from the film Analyze This, with Robert De Niro (pictured) and Billy Crystal.