Sancera Williams is a writer at Bard High School Early College in Cleveland.
We have all had moments where we have failed to reserve judgement toward other people. We tell ourselves that judging others is wrong and badly reflects on who we are, yet we do it almost subconsciously mainly to people we do not like. This does not automatically make us bad people, but there are people in the world who do nothing but judge others for their own entertainment. On the other hand, we have those in the world who, instead of judging people, welcome them with open arms and warm hearts, accepting them for who they really are instead of accepting distortions others make about them. In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston narrates these two types of people, the first being judgmental, and the other being accepting. The novel suggests that while judging people might come easiest and might even be socially rewarded, there are alternative choices. Janie’s best friend Phoeby’s unprejudiced attitude toward others deserves observation.
According to Hurston, those who plant themselves in judgment tend to be the same ones who do nothing greatly productive with their lives, as if judging is their jobs. Hurston narrates the townspeople thus: “It was the time to hear things and talk. . . . They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment” (1). Judgment usually comes from the lack of loving yourself for who you are, so in order to regain that love and make yourself feel better, you think the only way to do that is judge others for their faults and imperfections so you don’t have to focus on yours. Eventually, instead of building up self love, you start to develop more hate for yourself because you’ve spent so much time judging others. This judging will be all you’re known for — it’s now your identity. You now become more aware of your imperfections because you know how to spot others’.
Phoeby is the light in the world of the novel. She understands and respects privacy, especially Janie’s. She feels no need to take information she’s heard about someone and turn it into something bad. She questions those who judge Janie: “You mad ‘cause she didn’t stop and tell us all her business. . . .De way you talkin’ you’d think folks in dis town didn’t do nothin’ in de bed ‘cept praise de Lawd” (3). Phoeby shows that although you are surrounded by judgmental people, you can be the one to change for the better and lead everyone else to a better path. She’s also essentially calling them hypocrites, since she mentions how they talk as if they’re saints, when no one is a saint. Phoeby is realistic and mature enough to understand that we all have our faults, and no one is perfect, especially since we’ve all made mistakes, whether it be small or major. She sees no purpose in taking typical human behavior and turning it into something that dehumanizes us. She spurs self-reflection in the townspeople when she decides to visit Janie and learn about her experience instead of judge her.
According to Hurston, you will never be able to develop meaningful relationships by gossiping and judging all the time. Will you ever learn to love yourself if all you do is hate others? Instead of making yourself feel better by despising others, you improve yourself by loving yourself and others, as Phoeby shows. Only you have the power to positively change your life. Having a judgmental mindset only brings you further from being human, and even farther from being your true and happy self.