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Don't Sit in Judgment

By Jenny Horsman

Don’t Sit in Judgment


Messages for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week – Part 2 of 7 in series

A Learning and Violence Stance is a place to stand with curiosity, connection and conscious awareness, before the colonial gaze of judgments, diagnoses, labels and standard stories shape and limit our view.


It’s all too easy to blame others, or ourselves, for not “getting over it,” for staying trapped in the past or for the illnesses, actions, and avoidance that can follow from adverse experiences. But those judgments, all that self-blame and blame of others, are exactly what keep us firmly stuck. Certainty leaves no room for curiosity, for exploration.


When we sit in judgment, we may think we have a good vantage point from which to see what the other person needs to “fix” them. Perhaps we believe we are the “expert,” the one with the training and/or the experience. We may be certain that our solution will make “them” behave better or feel better, but this often results in lost connection, even connection to ourselves. Loaded on top of the earlier violences that already did their destructive work, certainties about what would be good for other people, or even about what we “should” do ourselves, can only do more damage.


What we need most to do for ourselves, or anyone we seek to support, is bring an open mind, observe carefully, and experiment with options to help us stay present, whatever our role. It’s only in this attentive state that we can see what effect our interventions or innovations may have. Sometimes the way people are surviving is the only possibility for them in that moment. Sometimes small actions may open space for something new.


There are many approaches that can help us come into the present, inhabit our bodies, and feel able to engage more fully with the challenges of life and learning. If we can step into the flow of openness, avoiding the twin banks of rigidity and overwhelm even for a moment, then we may be able to experiment, and watch the outcome carefully and curiously. Perhaps we will discover possibilities for ourselves, or for others, ones that may help us live and learn more fruitfully and joyfully.


To resist the pull of judgment and shame, to support the search for joy is an act of resistance in an oppressive world.


What helps you to withstand the siren call of judgment, or reminds you not to speak or act on the judgments that so easily surface?

About the Author

I am an educational researcher, a white first-generation settler in Canada, a migrant from England by way of Sierra Leone, where I spent nearly four years beginning to unlearn much I had been taught about the world in England. In Sierra Leone I absorbed new awareness of colonialism and white privilege, though I didn’t really understand the significance of those lessons until years later.

For more than thirty years I have been studying the impacts of all forms of violence on learning, and exploring how to support more effective and joyful learning of the things we choose to learn, at any age and in any setting. I first stumbled over the connection between violence we experience and how and what we learn during my doctoral research in the 80s, and later came to understand that what I heard resonated with some of my own childhood experiences.


I have learned a lot over the years, from research, experience, the wisdom of colleagues and students of different races, religions, cultures, and socioeconomic locations from my own, and a wide variety of training and study.

I prefer the language of a Learning and Violence Stance to the commonly used “trauma-informed”, in order to stress this point of view that recognizes the multifaceted nature of violence in society, and the correspondingly complex pressures when any one of us try to support learning, our own or others,’ within colonial institutions and an unjust society founded on violence.

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