Gini Dietrich

Who Are We to Judge?

By: Gini Dietrich | July 6, 2010 | 

During our Independence Day festivities, I had a conversation with four-year-old Ellie, the daughter of a family friend. It went like this…

Gini: Ellie, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Ellie: I’m not sure yet. I don’t have to decide until my birthday.

Gini: You don’t have to decide until your birthday? When is your birthday?

Ellie: November. I will be five.

Gini: When you turn five, do you think you’d like to be President of the United States?

Ellie: No because Obama is taking our money.

Gini: He’s taking our money?

Ellie: Yes. He’s giving it to the poor people.

Gini: Well, that’s nice of him. Poor people need money.

Ellie: Yes, but we need money too so we can buy stuff.

I thought she was hilarious (a little stinker, as my mom would say). She’s precocious and very sassy…you’d almost think she was my kid the way she held herself and the way she talked with adults. I was mesmerized. But I tell you about this conversation because, no matter your politics, it was hilarious, but also because it shows you how we perceive things as human beings, no matter our age.

Which leads me into a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with our community for a couple of months. Perception does, indeed, equal reality. But what happens when your perception is coupled with your politics, your values, your opinions, and your life’s experiences? As human beings, we tend to make rash judgments, we absolutely judge a book by its cover, and we form first impressions of people that are hard to break.

A few months ago, I was talking to my friend and client, Doug Davidoff, and he told me he’d noticed I had lost my blog enemy…meaning I hadn’t written anything in a while that got people riled up. So I wrote a blog post about MY feelings around wearing jeans when you speak. Boy did I get my enemy back! People called me names, they commented on this very blog about their perceptions of me (of course, most never even having met me, nor were those who were rude regular readers of this blog), and one blogger was so riled up he wrote a blog post about me and used the F word to describe me (again, someone who has never met me). On the flip side of that, there were a few people (such as my friend Teresa Basich) who disagreed with me, but handled it extrememly professionally both on Twitter and on their blogs.

But the professional discourse, like Teresa’s was few and far in between, and the name calling and unprofessionalism went on for more than a week. I got my feelings really hurt. I really want to be liked. I don’t like being called names. I love discourse, as long as it’s professional. But when it turns rude and insulting, it’s very hard for me to handle. I’m pretty sure I cried more than once and I also got that stabbing feeling in my heart. It’s hard to have a blog enemy when it turns unprofessional.

I was commiserating with my friend Nancy Myrland and she said something very profound, “Commenting on one’s blog is like coming into someone’s house. You must have manners. By saying something rude or calling that person names, you may as well be in their own home doing the very same.”

Which really got me thinking. We are a society of people who like drama, who like to watch people be really awful to one another, and who like to see the person who is on top fall.  Sure we like to know that Reggie Bush was only dating Kim Kardashian for the publicity and we like to know that Jon and Kate of the Plus Eight fame really are a mess, but who are we to judge? We all have challenges, weaknesses, and hardships. All of us. So who says, just because someone is famous (in social media, Hollywood, or politics), that we get to judge?

This one blog post won’t change human behavior, but maybe, the next time you go to say something negative about another person or write a comment that is unprofessional, you’ll think about how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of your words. And perhaps a four-year-old named Ellie will make you think about the fact that not only poor people need money.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Great post, and I agree with your friend Nancy, commenting is like coming into someone’s house – if you disagree – do so in an agreeable manner (i.e. don’t be disagreeable in your persona).

    I also know exactly what you mean when you get the comment which melts the screen. What I’ve done in the past is ask the writer if they would like to resubmit, less the profanity/vulgarity, while calling out their obvious passion on the topic. Some do, some don’t – most will.

    All the best,

  • Gini, thank you for writing this, and thank you for your very kind mention of me. This has been on my mind for quite a while as I am often amazed at how brazen some are about their outspokenness. I don’t mind people being outspoken, but I do mind when they’re rude at the expense of someone else. I don’t know why these media allow some to show their true colors, other than they don’t have to look that person in the eyes when saying these rude or hurtful things to them. I’m afraid there’s another name for that…coward. I know that’s a strong statement (some will laugh at me as strong to me is gentle to others!), but you are right, maybe people will think a bit before attacking because of posts like this one you have written. Love you friend!

  • Gini, you touched on a subject I’ve been planning to blog about in the coming weeks, and I am so glad you did.

    I agree with your wise friend Nancy about how one should proceed when commenting on a blog or on a website. You deftly pointed out that discourtesy has become a celebrated form of entertainment in our society. From reality tv shows to the tenor of coverage of celebrities (who is drunk, unattractive or mentally ill), vicious public comments, made out of hate, insecurity, for the cheap laugh, or to gain the approval of like-minded hatemongers, have become the bloodsport of our discourse.

    I’m sorry to hear about the comments you received and the impact they had on you. It is not only horribly unprofessional, but also incredibly thoughtless.

    For what it is worth, I read your piece on dressing for presentations and agreed with you. If you want to convince me that you can advance my business interests, it may behoove you to show up looking the part.

  • Gini great post you are spot on as usual. Nancy’s comment about manners is not only relevant to blog posts but I think to the world at large. I cringe (and change the channel) every time I see an exchange on one of the cable talk news shows where the guests start to get personal and won’t let the other side express their views. Manners and civility would go a long way towards bridging the political divide in my opinion.

  • Gini,

    I have a related story: A certain someone in my family loves to forward chain emails that are racist, intolerant of other religions, and laced with political “mistruths.” Some of us used to take the time to fact-check the messages to present the truth to our family and respond with the “real” information; however, that would just spark family drama. In the name of family harmony, I now just delete the messages without even opening them because I know I’m not going to change their opinions, no matter how off-base the emails are. But, it did teach me a very important lesson about taking the time to understand where someone else is coming from, what’s driving their comments or views, and knowing when to jump in to a debate, and when to stay out of it. Just because one person wholeheartedly disagree with another person’s point of view doesn’t give either party the right to engage in personal attacks. You can have a much healthier debate by sticking to the facts and avoiding personal judgments.

    I am one of those people who goes out of her way to make sure someone else isn’t being offended. Like you, I hate when people don’t like me. 🙂 I’ve never understood what makes someone think it’s acceptable to hide behind a computer screen and write/post/share things that they would *never* say face-to-face. My advice: Before writing a nasty comment, think about whether you’d make that statement in front of your mom or your child. If you wouldn’t, then perhaps you should think twice before saying it online.


  • One of the hardest things about the online world for me to accept is how ruthless it is. I constantly say that the protection of distance and a computer screen, and the lack of face-to-face interaction, makes people so gutsy that it goes beyond gutsiness to downright rudeness. There’s also so much more exposure here to people we’d never choose to surround ourselves with in the real world.

    No matter how much you and I disagree, I’ll always respect you as a businesswoman and a friend. The same goes in a broader context, too, though — our right to share opinions doesn’t come along with a free pass to bash each other. We’re humans, we’re allowed to have a stance for or against something, and we should be able to share that stance without harsh judgment.

    Often, the people who are so unreasonably rude are using the social web as an outlet for anger and unhappiness in their lives that they can’t control. And even though that’s so commonly the case, it’s hard not to take that kind of behavior to heart. Thank you for writing this post, Gini; we needed the reminder.

  • I can relate to this blog. I have embraced social media and learned early on there are subjects that are just taboo – Ellie’s comments reminded me of some made by my own family members (and much more harsh). I’ve learned to thicken my skin and steer clear of certain subjects no matter how much I’d like to comment. And I’ve especially learned that It really does take all kinds to make a world.

  • Huzzah for kindness! Good for Doug for pointing out the value of the dissenter, but Angry Jeans Guy was WAY overboard. I can’t imagine a person with that attitude would emote good vibes no matter what he wore.

    So – Amen to dissent and Huzzah for kindness.

  • Leaving a comment on a blog is like coming into someone’s house, usually with a MASK on. That’s what really gets my goat about the Internet. The anonymity it affords people lets them remove their spines and say whatever comes to mind with no fear of repercussions. It’s really disgusting.
    I got a comment on my personal blog once from someone who referred to themselves only as “I read to mock you,” and while I took what they said with a grain of salt…it still hurt. Pretty badly.
    Who are we to judge, indeed.

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  • Great post, Gini. I think that manners are something we often forget about when interacting online. While social media gives us an opportunity to exchange ideas, share different viewpoint and even argue, good discourse online exists only when we follow the same rules we would follow during in-person debates.

  • Ces

    I think my entire answer could be a blog post …

    Our culture is all about judging. We judge with out wallets, we judge with popularity polls, we judge evidence on jury’s, we make judgements on life and death of the unborn, we judge on American Idol … and it goes on and on.

    I judge that Ellie is right! Obama is taking our money! LOL!!!

  • Thanks for the post and the mention. The beauty of an enemy is that they quickly show how much credibility they have – or don’t have. While attacks that you got hurt, they also highlight just how much substance you have. Remember, if you can’t win the argument/discourse – attack the person.

    Keep going!!

  • Gini,

    I agree with Ces. This response COULD be a blog post of it’s own and just may!
    I’m so sorry people chose to respond with such lacking in respect and professionalism. You are adorable and I/we really enjoy your blogs.
    We all DO have feelings and on line or not, there is still a human being behind the post.
    We have a client that makes us want to drink heavily and has resulted (on several occasions actually) in “cocktail hour” starting mid afternoon with margaritas blending and “The Mexican Hat Dance” blasting.
    For every negative comment, you’ve got 100 supporters appreciating your personality, your honesty and your humor!

  • Thomas Harper (#trharp1)

    Thank you for your blog, and today’s post, Gini. The “Comments” portion on a blog are an invitation and should be used with respect to the author. Comments are a wonderful opportuntuity to offer feedback and share discourse when the opportunity is not abused for the purpose of ego, grandstanding, or ranting. Really, what purpose is served by being rude, righteous, judgmental, etc, especially in response to someone else’s invitation? If we care to post a comment, we should care and post respectfully.

  • Gini, great post! Sadly, some of our national leaders are setting a poor example in civil discourse, and they’re helping to create an environment in which rudeness is the norm. There’s no excuse for yelling out on the floor of Congress that the president is a liar, no matter how incensed you are by what he says (or who he is?). There’s no excuse for Kanye West to interrupt Taylor Swift in an awards ceremony. There no excuse for Serena Williams to let loose a barrage of profanity at the U.S. Open.

    I’d like to believe this is a recent problem, but it’s not. Head down to the Lincoln museum in Springfield, and you’ll see just how ugly political discourse was in his day. The good news, I suppose, is that we’ve cycled back from such ugliness in the past, so we should be able to do so again.

    We’re all better than this. Let’s keep our conversations focused on ideas, not invective, and we might once again learn from each other.

  • I can’t tell you how on the same page you and I are Gini. This is something that has been swirling around in my mind for a while now. In short, people are VERY quick to spat things out (passively – which seems to be the preferred choice on Social Media or in a more in-your-face way) and criticize each other.

    The sad thing that I see happening time and time again is that CIVIL disagreement seems to have completely gone out the window for so many. Maybe it’s because words don’t have a clearly defined ‘tone’, maybe it’s because people are very quick to hide behind their computer screen. I don’t have the clear answer. But, a lot of people seem to think you can’t disagree with someone and still be friends with them. You and I can have COMPLETELY different opinions (I’m guilty of wearing jeans to several things I’ve spoken at, I know…shame on me) and you have a very opinionated view that it’s not acceptable, but I still greatly respect you, what you’ve done with your business, and who you are as a person.

    We are quick to judge, but we shouldn’t be so quick to stand on our soapbox with the mindset that “I’m right and everyone else is wrong”. Getting defensive gets ugly, fast.

    I needed to read this today – thanks for writing it.

  • Gini, Just chiming in with Matt, Teresa and everyone that people are often too comfortable hiding behind their computer screens. They react quickly, emotionally and sometimes post without thinking. Love the comment from Nancy Myrland about commenting on a blog post being like walking into someone’s house. I see it along similar lines.

    From the old school BBS and chat rooms thing, there used to be standard courtesy norms. If someone took the time to write a post or comment on one, you should extend them equal courtesy to read first, respond appropriately second. Takes a lot of courage to speak your mind and put your NAME and professional reputation on it; even if I disagree with you (which I did to a degree about the jeans thing) I’d only do so with respect, which is why I know you’ll understand when I call you out for this (over IMO) generalization:

    “We are a society of people who like drama, who like to watch people be really awful to one another, and who like to see the person who is on top fall.” Not everyone does. I don’t really watch the “real life” fails of a Tiger Woods or such-and-such reality TV “stars.” I don’t get pleasure from the misery of others, watching drama IRL. (I prefer my snark and fail a la stylized TV shows, YMMV 😉

    No one can judge. Believe in your version of the facts, your opinions, stick to your guns. But remember that just as hard as you believe, someone very smart will totally disagree. Doesn’t make them wrong, anymore than you right. To each his or her own, right? Right! FWIW.

  • I disagree to an extent here Gini.

    I don’t think a blog is a home, although some may treat it like one. A blog is a soapbox where you are speaking your mind the the world. It is public, it is open and so is the response.

    Where I agree with you however, is that people should handle disagreements/debates in a civil and professional manner.

    I too love to get people riled up with my blog posts. Not because I want to stir up controversy, but because I love nothing more than being able to make people look at something in a different way, and challenge the standards that they’ve become comfortable with.

    In doing that, however, I realize that not everyone has the ability, or capacity to respond in a civil manner. Emotions get involved. People handle challenges in different ways. Some are ridiculous, some are harsh, and some are civil.

    When you challenge the world with your thoughts, you have to realize that the world will challenge you back…and not always in a way that you consider acceptable.

    …but keep writing, keep challenging. We need writers like you.

    David, Scribnia

  • Funny you should “pen” this topic Gini as I was just thinking about the rashness of our decisions as human beings and our constant desire to have 20/20 vision to ensure we didn’t make fools of ourselves.

    However – it also goes to say that without a little rashness (was going to say rash but that’s a whole can of worms I don’t want to touch LOL) we might not learn and grow from our mistakes. I’ve often relayed your “jeans” post (which I don’t think was a mistake by the way) to others and each time it gets a grin and a bit of reaction from both sides of the coin…but it is tempered with people saying we have a right to our opinion.

    Here’s to you riling up the “enemy” here with the knowledge that they offer something as valuable to personal growth as your legion of “friends” do. Cheers,


  • I’ve often contemplated getting a Ph.D in Psychology just so I can do a dissertation on how people behave online. NPR actually covered this just the other day: Interesting story, though probably nothing new to anyone who reads this blog.

    The thing that really gets to me about online communities and blog commenters and social media is this: Too often, people are afraid to say something nice in public, but will gladly say something mean. The old axiom of “praise publicly, reprimand privately” is turned on its end online.

    People don’t want to be nice to someone in a position of “power” (even if it’s illusionary power, like Wikipedia admins who are basically glorified janitors) because they might be seen as “kissing up.” The people with that power (imaginary or not) don’t want to be nice to ordinary users because they might be seen as “playing favorites.” So the things that are socially rewarding–and hence public and frequent–end up being disciplining of regular users by moderators/admins/etc., nastiness from users to moderators, and nastiness between users and even between moderators.

    When a compliment is given in many online communities, it’s given privately, or tempered with criticism so as not to look too much like flattery. When a genuine and full-throttle compliment IS offered in public, the “suck up” is jumped on by the rest of the community and made to feel like an outsider.

    I think I’m getting a little off your topic, so to bring it back, I think that has a lot to do with the responses you received to the blue jeans post. There’s nothing interesting about blogging “I agree with this woman!” and anyone who does so risks being accused of acting like a kiss-ass. The excitement comes from dehumanizing another person enough to call them names one would never call them to their face. That’s where the social reward is online, and I think that will need to be addressed in a sweeping way by the next big evolution of the social web.

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  • Hi Gini,

    Call me naive, but I am SHOCKED and appalled to read about the way you were treated with regard to your post about jeans (and any posts before that). Seriously?

    In a space that allows us to have more interpersonal connections than ever before, it’s sad how quickly people forget to be … HUMAN. The Golden Rule still applies. Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t say to the person face to face. Think before you speak (type.)

    I’m starting to feel like I’m talking to my kids!

    Peter Shankman has a term, “SPAS-(Socially Passive Agressive Syndrome).”

    I’m not sure that the SPAS will ever stop, but, I commend you for calling attention to it.

    Keep on being your authentic self.

  • I agree with David regarding presenting something to be looked in a different light. We have all come from a variety of life experiences and are not always exposed to something new. But this doesn’t mean we should start judging people because of this.

    I am reminded of this regularly with talks with friends and family. I am open to them believing in anything they want as long as they respect my feelings as well. So you don’t agree with what was posted? Why do we have to make it a bashfest? I think presenting your own comment on the subject at hand without blaming or calling the author names is inappropriate. I thought blogging was a way to share information with people all over the world in order to gain insight from them. I didn’t think it was supposed to a new form of high school where name calling was done. Didn’t we learn anything (other than how to sneak out of the house) from those four years?

    Great post and Ellie is way too cute! Tell her that she can always wait till after she is 5 years old to decide what she wants to do when she “grows up”. 🙂


  • oops! I meant *appropriate and not “inappropriate” sorry for the lacking of editing on that last post!

  • I so love not only this blog, but @nancymyrland’s take on commenting on blogs. I so, so agree with Nancy. I don’t mind someone disagreeing, and even disagreeing passionately, but do it with manners and respect. Great post Gini.

  • To borrow a line from a favorite comedian, “I’m not being judgemental, I’m just making observations”. On a more serious note Gini, I like how you are questioning the lack of ethos between persons that seems to pop up in cyber space on a regular basis. I’m not sure where such behavior comes from. I usually feel such is rooted in cowardice and the need to boost one’s one esteem by shaming/negating the view points of others. But then I’ve always been a person who tried to hold multiple, often conflicting viewpoints. It works in my role as a therapist – but I can also see how in the buisiness, political, legal realm, there often must be a winner and a loser – so it makes sense that viewpoints in those areas would tend to be a less flexbile.

  • You had Haters over something you said about wearing JEANS?! Seriously?
    Was it “National Everyone’s Off Their Meds Day”?

    A few thoughts:
    1. “Say what you mean, but don’t say it mean.” That’s what a friend who’s in Al-Anon taught me years ago.
    2. It’s a whole lot easier to NOT DO than to Un-Do.
    3. Whether a blog is a home or a soapbox doesn’t matter one bit. In the end, it’s about connecting with people.
    4. As Emerson said, “How can I hear what you’re saying when what you’re doing speaks so loudly?”
    5. I hope little Ellie learns to distinguish between “Wants” and “Needs”. (I”m still working on it myself.)
    6. I got slammed repeatedly on Canada Day by someone on Twitter. Even after I apologized for offending her. And I immediately thought of you and a few others who’ve had their turns, and I thought “Hmmm. I must be on to something if I’m attracting haters!” And the next day, an old boss publicly reprimanded me for another tweet. For real!
    6. When in doubt, be kind.

    You might be interested in what my friend Michael J. Chase is doing over at

  • From the mouths of babes! Kids do put LIFE in perspective for adults sometimes. Great educational article GINI!!!

  • Paul (@minutrition) McConaughy

    Thanks for saying out loud what we all think at least once in a while. If you really want a sick feeling try this. If you are a conservative politically go read the comments on a liberal’s blog…or if you are a liberal go read the ones on a conservative’s blog. Its enough to make you wonder why anyone would want to be in your political party – considering the company you keep. Words do matter. I like Kat Jaibur’s “It’s a whole lot easier to not do than to undo. Sounds like something my mom would have said. Now that I think about it listening to mom isn’t a bad approach either.

  • Gini Dietrich

    Phew! I need to learn to listen to my gut. I’ve seriously been thinking about this post for two months, but haven’t written it because I didn’t want to have an enemy again so close to the jeans post. Guess I should have just written it…but then I wouldn’t have had the great Ellie story to go with it.

    Christopher, I’d never actually considered asking a commenter to revise and remove the profanity. Thanks for that tip!

    Nancy, I agree that the computer screen allows us to say things we’d never say in person. That’s why I banned email in the office last summer. People were saying really awful things to one another in email they would NEVER have said if they’d gotten up and walked into that person’s office.

    Erin, thanks for agreeing with me on the jeans issue! 🙂

    Roger, you actually talk about this a lot on Facebook and I always agree with you. Let’s be kind!

    Heather, great, great advice about saying something in front of your mother or child (I always say my grandmother). That being said, I had some crazy neighbor woman say really nasty things to me the other day, in front of her six year old granddaughter, because I was training my dog and had him off his leash. I couldn’t believe she said what she did in front of the child, and told her so. Hopefully most people are more respectful than that.

    Teresa, classy, as always…and you have great taste in shoes! 🙂

    Paige, DANG! You figured out I am “I read to mock you”! HAHAHAHA! Someone really used that name? Lordy!

    Jan, I AM COMING OVER for Mexican Hat Dance!! Let me know next time you need to have one!

    Matt Chevy, keep wearing the jeans! I still like you.

    Davina, three words: Calvin and Hobbes.

    David, with disagreement like that, you are welcome to challenge me any day, any time!

    Kary, love the Golden Rule analogy! I just wrote a guest post for Sarah Robinson (to come soon) about that very topic. Always treat others as you want to be treated. Always.

    Laura, we’ve found a job for Ellie…she’s going to be a nurse in Kat’s nursing home.

    Kat, what the heck did you say to offend someone on Canada Day?! Come on! The Canadians are the most laid back bunch of peeps in the entire world!

    Paul, listening to mom is ALWAYS a good idea!

    And, last but not least, my BFF Erin…you have that title for a reason. Too, too funny! Your mom.

  • I completely agree. Just because you are behind a computer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have manners. I think this is also a big lesson we need to focus on teaching our children and the children to come in regards to cyber-bullying and just downright what is & isn’t acceptable behavior on the internet.

    Your reputation matters and it will follow you even more closely now with the use of the internet. Like we’ve all heard…”if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all” maybe it really is “if you can’t respectfully communicate your viewpoint on an issue, don’t say anything at all”.

    Thanks for the great post!


    • I like your revision of respectfully communicating. You’ll notice that Teresa very calmly and intelligently disagreed with me. I love that because she made some very fair and valid points. Did it change my mind? No. But I have a ton more respect for her now (as if that were even possible).

  • ooooh – I am behind in reading! So sorry that you got your feelings hurt… I know it does no good for me to say ignore that BS!!! <<but I'll say it anyway!

    I love when you bring up these topics that spark debate! But I agree that there needs to be professionalism – common courtesy, whatever you want to call it… when debating… because personally I fight fair… (well fair in the sense that I fight about the topic – I don't throw insults about the person out there…) and when I come across something that is all about name calling and bullying and insecurities on the person writing it – I just ignore… but am still trying to find a way to create a B*tch Slap button… just saying 🙂

    • You don’t fight fair on Words! 🙂 It’s pretty hard to ignore the name calling, but you’re absolutely right that we should all do that!

  • Gini – I’m so glad I found this post through Nancy Myrland’s blog. I dealt with this for the first time just recently, and it was only one nasty commenter. I definitely identify with getting my feelings hurt, even though I tried to tell myself that the commenter’s words said more about her than they did about me. I’ve been talking about this issue in my personal life a lot the last few months, after watching a blogger stop blogging because of threats on her blog, and seeing some people get so much joy from tearing other people down. It makes me wonder if kids who are bullies just grow up to be adults who are bullies, and now they have a bigger playground. But I’m really glad you and others are talking about getting back to having some manners, and being able to disagree with grace and dignity and not tearing someone down.

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