‘Don’t judge me!’ – judging, the past and the present

Ever heard someone shreek ‘don’t judge me!’, or ‘don’t judge someone unless you haven’t met them’? It does seem to be a bit of a cliche nowadays, or should I say, an excuse to be an ass and then deflect any criticism?

If we are not supposed to judge anyone we have never met, does that preclude all us historians from researching people who died before we were born? Of course not. History would be in trouble if we didn’t research people who came before us. And of course, we don’t know them.

And I have to say, and this comes as someone who spent 18 months researching somebody who died in 1847, that you CAN come to some kind of conclusion about what kind of person someone was, as long as you start off with a clean slate and see everything in the context of the time. Judging the past by the standards of today is problematic to say the least.

I guess the same stands for the 2,549 WW2 servicemen I have spent two years researching, or the 5,000 WW1 servicemen I am currently looking at. Just because I can never meet them, does that mean they should be abandoned to anonymity forever? Of course not.

If we don’t research people then we don’t have social history, and a society without history is like a ship without an anchor. And by the same token, our deeds and our actions precede us in the present day too. Life is full of judgement, its impossible to get away from it. Job interviews, dates, they are all about judgement – if someone has the skills you are looking for, or if they take care over their appearance.

So, go ahead – judge away!



Filed under historiography, Uncategorized

3 responses to “‘Don’t judge me!’ – judging, the past and the present

  1. (Sigh.) Okay, fine. If you want to dump on me, just go ahead and get it over with. 😉
    Seriously, I finally got my desktop working, after my laptop crashed, so I should be back around. (Judge that as good or bad.)

  2. Edna Cahill

    The instruction I always received was “Don’t judge anyone until you have walked in his shoes”


    • James Daly

      It’s an interesting one. I do think it’s very important to bear in mind the factors that weigh on some people that we might not immediately understand. Like criticising Generals, it is very easy for those of us in our armchairs, with the benefit of hindsight, to shoot down the so-called ‘Donkeys’ of the Western Front. Yet can we really understand the situation they were in – commanding that many men, with pressure from politicians and allies, and whats more, working in the context of the time and not the present day? I think it is pertinent to question and probe the past, but sensitively and appropriately, and of course adding those provisos where necessary.

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