Goal-Setting Essay: Judge Less


“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand

“Judge less; think more.”—Beth McCoy

               My job is to notice. Every time I return to the course syllabus and read this epigraph, I am reminded of my role as a student, teacher and human. To me, it means that my sole responsibility is to notice, and to be okay with other people noticing too. My most important responsibility is not to assume, not to debate, not to immediately react, and certainly not to judge. My job is to notice. Eventually, and hopefully, the effect of my noticing will become understanding that grows steadily and gracefully.

               In a course setting, this means reading. It means noticing themes within material, connections between course texts, historical contexts, perspectives of authors, due dates, errors in my writing. It means noticing my own time management habits, my own participation, my part in collaborations and my care for my own growth in the course. It means noticing my professor, Beth McCoy, and my TA, Kya Primm: noticing what they choose to emphasize in class, noticing their expectations and their responses to the material, the questions they ask. It means noticing what is going on with my peers: noticing their perspectives, their growth, their understanding of and reactions to course material. It also means noticing what’s going on in my life outside of class, in my community, my family, my own head. Most importantly, it means noticing all of this without judgement.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be Astonished.

Tell about it.

-Mary Oliver

This poem is not a part of our course material, so I won’t dwell on it, but I have thought about it often throughout the first few weeks of this course. It adds on two subsequent parts of the action of “noticing.” One, is allowing yourself to feel how you feel in response. There is a fine line between feeling and judging, and noticing comes in again, there. Many times in this class, I have learned something, or noticed something that makes me absolutely sick with disgust. I’ve noticed unfathomable things that make me feel incredibly angry and inconsolably helpless. In those moments, I have had to remind myself to notice what those feelings are, and why I’m feeling them. That’s how I work to avoid judgement.

The second element of noticing that Oliver mentions is telling others about what you noticed. This feels especially specific in the context of an English class, and especially one as collaborative as this. Here, we read, notice, and learn how to share our findings with our peers, and potentially the public.

For me, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has been an awesome (in the true meaning of the word) example of deeply noticing, learning, and sharing without judging. Throughout the chapters we’ve read for class, Washington details unimaginably painful and degrading actions taken by white people at the direct physical, mental, and existential expense of millions of Black people throughout several centuries. She notices, and she shares these stories in excruciating detail, leaving nothing out, and she refrains from judgement in her writing consistently and unwaveringly. In chapter 3, Washington quotes Baron Georges Cuvier, a man who repeatedly dehumanized Africans physically and verbally, writing:

“Cuvier had once noted that Baartman possessed a tenacious memory; she also spoke Dutch, English, and French. Yet, he left her this final assessment: “‘These races with depressed and compressed skulls are condemned to a never-ending inferiority.’” ( I have a kindle edition with no page numbers, I’m sorry!)

This quote ended the entire section on Cuvier and Baartman. Washington does not share her feelings on this, she does not write angrily about the racism so clearly evident in Cuvier’s perspective. She just notices, and tells about it. It’s our job to do the same.

My job is to notice. During the first week of class, Dr. McCoy asked us to look up the age of consent Wikipedia page, and read the “history” tab. Many of us were immediately appalled seeing ages of consent as low as 7 years old throughout American history, and as low as 14 in very recent years. The goal behind the exercise was a reminder to notice. Historical context is important to notice in regards to action and intention in our readings during this course. While reading Toni Morrison’s Home, I mentioned in our class discussion that I thought it was significant that Mrs. K was having sexual relationships with all of the teenage boys in the town, and that their mothers didn’t mind because “a local widow who didn’t want their husbands was more of a boon than a sin. Besides, their own daughters were safer that way” (90). This immediately disturbed me, and I felt that it was significant, and should have had some sort of effect on the development of the boys who were involved with her. When I brought it up in class, Dr. McCoy reminded me that I had possibly not taken note of the time period in which this was happening, and the age of consent that was legal and socially acceptable at the time.

These reminders in class never come across as judgements. They are reminders to notice everything we can—to think more, and judge less. This course is teaching me how to think actively, and carefully about my readings and my interactions in class. Last week, in groups, we discussed homeopathic and natural medicine as seen administered by Ms. Ethel to Cee in Home. I noticed there were certainly some differing opinions on the idea within my group, as I leaned toward Ms. Ethel healing Cee in the best way she knew how—and it working—and others saw it as a moral indiscretion to treat Cee the way she did. While my initial reaction to the conversation was to argue, or to feel offended, I eventually returned to our course objectives mentally and decided to share what I noticed about the healing rituals with my group. I also took the time to notice why some of my other group members may have felt the way they did, and found that all of us were operating and thinking in the same good faith despite our different backgrounds, majors and philosophies.

My goal in this class is to reach that mode of thinkING and noticING and not judging even sooner. By the end of this course, I hope I’ve practiced these skills enough so that it becomes my default response more often than not.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Home (Vintage International) (p. 90). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Washington, Harriet A.. Medical Apartheid . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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