I’m in over my head and it’s suffocating.
For as long as I can remember, harshly judgmental cultures have been a big part of my life. Too big. I almost feel like Bane does about darkness, but with judgement. I was born in it. Molded by it.
However, before I dive into some admittedly sweeping generalizations about the cultures that are, have been, and will continue to be integral parts of my life, I need to offer a disclaimer. I’m not saying I’m surrounded by nothing but judgmental jerks. That’s simply not true.
This is about cultures, not individuals.
In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to the people that taught me how to be truly accepting of others. My mom, my dad, and so many others. I would love to list them off and give them the credit they deserve, but I can’t. This is something that was imbued upon my soul because of countless examples I’ve seen throughout my entire life.
Anywhoozle… The fact of the matter is this—a vast majority of the people in my personal and professional cultures are wildly judgmental.
It’s stupid. It’s toxic.
It’s hurting both the judged and the judger.
And I’ve had enough.
My Religious Culture and Judging
I’m a religious guy. And my beliefs are profoundly important to me. Truthfully, I am who I am today because of my faith. I’m grateful for that.
But sometimes—most times—organized religion drives me crazy.
Comparison, condescension, and judgement are rampant in most religious cultures—some more than others. And I think my own is one of the worst offenders.
I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (I know, it’s a long name. That’s why most people refer to us as Mormons or simply by the acronym LDS.) We’re notorious for our missionaries that sport ties, tags, and often ride around town on bicycles. I was even one of them from 2009 to 2011. (Sorry if I ever knocked on your door right as you were sitting down to dinner.)
Beyond the missionaries, the LDS Church is well known for having a peculiar set of rules (read: commandments) that we follow. No drugs. No alcohol. Shoot, we don’t even drink coffee. We don’t have premarital sex. We take keeping the Sabbath holy very seriously. (I know some people that take it as far as not watching Sunday football.) We’re tithed 10% of our income. And we have church every Sunday…for three hours.
It’s a lot.
By most people’s standards, it seems impossibly difficult to follow all of our commandments in this day and age. I won’t lie, it actually is impossible to follow every single commandment with 100% obedience. Nobody’s perfect. I’m nowhere near perfection. Neither is the person sitting next to me on the pew.
Yet people judge—harshly—simply because the judged sin differently than the judger.
It’s pride. It’s self-righteousness. And it’s perhaps even a little jealousy. (I don’t go out and party on the weekend. Neither should so-and-so.) To some extent, I’m sure this sort of stuff happens in every church. But I’ve witnessed it most within my own. And the things I’ve seen range from disappointing to disheartening to devastating.
I watched as Lindsey Stirling—the LDS violinist and YouTube sensation—was mercilessly judged because of what she wore to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards. Her “immodest” dress and the storm of undue criticism even had Lindsey expressing her sadness that people are so quick to judge.
I've received a lot of hate over the last 2 days and I'm sorry for anyone that I've disappointed. The dress I wore to the awards was fully lined with tan fabric. But after looking at the pictures, I see that you actually can't tell that it's lined. In hind sight it wasn't the best choice because modesty is important to me. However, more importantly it makes me so sad that people are so quick to judge. Especially all the "Christians". I make mistakes, and I am definitely not perfect, but I really am trying my best. I tried on racks of dresses before I found one that actually covered me and I want to thank the designer and my stylist for making a dress that could make me feel beautiful and still keep me completely covered from head to toe. For those who say I've changed, I still believe in Christ and although I'm not perfect, I strive to share his love and positivity with those I meet
A friend of mine smoked our senior year. I can remember my parents inviting me into their room to have a serious talk. It was as if someone had died when they broke the news…
“Did you know [she] started smoking pot?”
At first, I was relieved by the question. There wasn’t a death in the family. Phew. I was surprised by the severity of the following conversation. But I completely understand where my parents were coming from. They, like me, were caught off guard and surprised.
What really got me happened a few days later.
I was planning something with my group of church friends—a group this same friend was a big part of. When I asked if she was coming, the reaction (and strongly implied no) appalled me…
“She smokes now.”
My cousin’s gay. Coming out in his twenties must have been incredibly hard (especially when he’s grown up in such a religiously conservative culture). Getting engaged to his boyfriend must have been even harder. But I imagine the hardest part is knowing that a lot of his loved ones won’t be at the wedding.
What someone chooses to do doesn’t change who they are. They’re still your friend. They’re still your family. They’re still your religious brother or sister.
Yet people still judge.
Be Ye Therefore Perfect
In Christian doctrine (oh bt-dubs, the LDS Church is totally Christian), Jesus challenges us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). But perfection is impossible.
The purpose of Christianity isn’t to perfectly follow a rigid set of commandments. It’s to become perfected through Christ. Nobody can do it alone. Nobody.
How can anyone be hypocritical enough to judge somebody else for being imperfect?
Regardless of your beliefs or religious credos, you cannot and will not be perfect. Spirituality in all of its forms has one aim—to help imperfect people improve. Judgmental believers (Mormons included) are looking beyond the mark.
It’s about progress, not perfection.
My Professional Culture and Judging
And then there’s fitness. It’s a world I’ve embraced, but in return, it often embarrasses me. This isn’t all the time, mind you. I feel all kinds of warm fuzzies when I hear stories about life-changing transformations. My own dramatic transformation is what originally got me in the fit pro game; I wanted to help other people do what I did. And I love seeing when people have transformative experiences similar to my own.
But the fitness culture judges everything.
For every story of somebody that uses fitness to change their life, hundreds of gym fail videos are on social media. Crossfit gets reamed by almost everyone but Crossfitters. “Clean” eating is mocked by the flexible dieting and IIFYM crowd. Body image and shaming are serious problems. And HIIT lovers laugh at cardio kings and queens who are “wasting their time” with low-intensity steady-state exercise.
Even fitness professionals judge.
Don’t worry, though. Your trainer probably won’t judge that froyo you had because they’re way too busy judging other trainers. I’ve seen countless articles, videos, and Facebook rants made by coaches and targeting other coaches.
What’s the point in hair-splitting dogma, heated debates, and personal attacks? They accomplish nothing. For anybody. (Unless, of course, you consider it productive to rally like-minded troops to a toxic cause that creates a greater divide between both parties. If that’s the case, then you’re probably crushing it with all this judgement stuff.)
Okay. You don’t agree with Tracy Anderson. Or Dr. Oz. Or the Food Babe. So what?
I’ve seen people within the industry publish work tantamount to slander and libel. (Which, by the way, is grounds for litigation last I heard.) I’ve seen biased and indoctrinated fitness enthusiasts regurgitate the same judgement made by their favorite fit pros. And I’ve seen gym newcomers, paralyzed by all the confusion, contradiction, and contention, give up on even trying.
All this because of what? Different people being—well, different.
Stop judging. Nobody’s winning.
Stop Searching for the Best
But Ben, what about people that suggest exercises or training and nutrition strategies that could have negative consequences? Surely the fear mongering and exploitation has earned some judgement, right?
Not even a little bit.
I mean, sure, becoming one of the PubMed and hard-science vigilantes dedicated to saving the fitness industry probably comes from good intentions. I really think the show-me-the-studies crowd means well. They’re trying to help people stay away from unproven pseudoscience and guide them to the “best” programs.
But they’re hurting the industry.
There are no universal bests. There’s no such thing as perfect form. And “perfect” plans simply don’t exist (no matter what the sales page says). Everybody—and every body—is different. That’s why the most common answer I give to fitness and nutrition questions is also the lamest: “It depends.”
But let’s say there were a perfect way to train and eat. It still wouldn’t be very effective.
Real talk—my form’s “bad” on most exercises. Even something as simple as walking left a podiatrist stunned. It’s because I have severally orthopedically impaired feet. (They’re super flat.)
I even had doctor’s tell me I’d never be able to lift weights. But I proved them wrong.
As a result, my form is far from textbook. And without unnecessary, expensive, and wildly invasive surgical intervention, that’s not going to change. Some people’s bodies simply can’t do certain things. And it’s okay.
Things that look best on paper aren’t always the same things that work best for the individual.
Similarly, perfect plans aren’t so great either. In fact, they’re worthless if you can’t also follow them perfectly. Forever. And a “perfect” plan probably wouldn’t allow for the wiggle room you need on those days when life happens and a pint of ice cream is non-negotiable. Let’s be honest, those days are going to happen. And when they do, you won’t be able to follow that “perfect” plan. Nor should you try.
You’ll get better results from perfectly following a decent plan than you will from decently following a perfect plan.
Instead of trying to find the best way to do x, y, or z, start finding whatever works best for you. And encourage others to do the same. Even if that means they’re vegan. Or doing a juice cleanse. Or bought some magical pills off an infomercial last night.
Just like we shouldn’t judge someone that sins differently, we shouldn’t judge someone that gyms differently.
It doesn’t matter what it is if it works. For you and for them.
It’s about progress, not perfection.
Focus on What Really Matters
On a macro level, the goal of religion and fitness are the same. They both offer a way to help people become more awesome. On a micro level, they focus on different means to reach that end. But the goal doesn’t change. Help people improve.
When we judge, we lose focus on what really matters—progression. Worse yet, judgement discourages effort.
Nobody wants to keep trying when their effort isn’t considered good enough by their community. And that’s the atmosphere we create when we judge—wherever we are. On the interwebs. At the chapel. In the gym.
Everybody’s in a different place on their own journey. Everybody.
There was a time before Arnold was Arnold. Yes, even the legend himself used to be as much a beginner as the people you see on YouTube fail videos. So was I. So were you.
Everyone’s doing the best they can. How dare anybody judge them for that?
Your Best Is Enough
Good news. No matter who looks down from their high horse, scoffs, or judges. Your best is enough. You are enough. And your efforts aren’t wasted.
When I first got into fitnessy things and started losing weight, I had no idea what I was doing. Looking back at it, my “program” was laughable (definitely not perfect). But I was doing the best I could with the knowledge I had. And here’s the thing, it was enough.
Even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I got great results.
Seriously. I lost three inches off my waist. Pants that used to be a struggle to button, stopped staying up without a belt. And friends kept telling me how great I was looking. It was amazing. The results were undeniable. And my ignorance surrounding exercise science, even more undeniable. But I did my best and it worked.
Most of the time, effort matters more than expertise.
Could I have gotten the same results faster if I had a better program? Sure. But back then, I didn’t have a better program or the knowledge to create one. So I did the best I could.
Your best is enough. Always. Maybe it’s not enough to be perfect, but it’s more than enough to improve. And that’s what it’s all about. Doesn’t matter what it is—could be spiritual, physical, or anything else—everybody can improve as long as they do their best. And nobody deserves to be judged for that. Ever.
Join Me in the Revolution
I love my beliefs and industry. They’ve both drastically changed my life for the better. For that, I’m infinitely grateful. But I see a problem that needs attention.
The social norm is one of negativity and judgement. But I’m staging a revolt. It’s time to create an atmosphere of encouragement. A community of support. And a culture of positivity.
I can’t do this alone. I need your help.
If anything you just read resonated with you, will you do me a favor and share it? It’d mean the world to me. Truly. This is a message of incredible importance. For everyone.
It’s also why I started the BENTRAINED Family. We all deserve more than harsh judgement and negativity. The BENTRAINED Family serves as the digital headquarters of the revolution and the front lines of my fight to promote positivity in a judgmental fitness culture.
The best part? It’s growing.
Are you with me?
I value your privacy and would never spam you.