Published in the February 18, 2016 edition.


“The judgment-free zone.”

That’s what Planet Fitness calls itself in its advertising campaign. It’s smart marketing to appeal to those who avoid gyms for fear of being judged as too heavy, too scrawny or just plain out of shape compared to the rest of the gym rats. “No gymtimidation” is another way that Planet Fitness puts it.

This space, on the other hand, is not a judgment-free zone. (Although I’m not above a little gymtimidation, so watch yourself.)

It’s one thing for a gym to call itself “judgment free zone.”

There are those, however, who would turn the rest of the world into a judgment-free zone – albeit minus the treadmills and exercise bikes.

The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgment as “the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought.” That almost makes it sound like a good thing. But add “al” to the end of the word and it becomes a negative – as in, “Don’t be so judgmental.”

These days, even science is no basis for making judgments. A person’s gender, for example, is no longer determined by “x” and “y” chromosomes. It’s determined by what a person “feels” like.

We are even admonished against using our judgment to speculate on matters that could affect our well-being.

For example, when a series of home and car breaks happen in our neighborhoods, we are asked not to speculate on what type of person might engage in such criminal activity. (In fact, the word “criminal” is itself judgmental and could stigmatize individuals who choose to make their living by extralegal means.)

Just because we are in an opioid addiction epidemic and we know that drug addicts steal to support their habits and just because last weekend we had a major heroin bust in Wakefield – that’s no reason to suggest that a junkie could be committing those break-ins.

In Massachusetts, we still have a law that takes away the driver’s licenses of convicted drug dealers for up to five years but there are those in the state Legislature who want to repeal that law. They say that it stigmatizes the drug traffickers and not being allowed to drive would limit their ability to get a job after they’re released from prison.

Did you see the mug shot of the alleged heroin dealer that Wakefield Police detectives busted last Friday? About the only job he’d be qualified for would be as a Randy Quaid impersonator. And given the trajectory of Mr. Quaid’s acting career, I don’t anticipate many positions opening up in the near future.

I’m no career counselor but if I were pursuing a profession in the heroin trafficking field, I might go with the clean-shaven, suit-and-tie look over the Ted Kaczynski look.

I understand not wanting to stigmatize addicts if it keeps them from seeking treatment. But doesn’t that same stigma also keep a lot of people from becoming drug users in the first place?

The vast majority of people would applaud anyone who seeks treatment for addiction. But it doesn’t help anyone to deny or excuse the damage, including the property crimes, that addicts commit.

I guess that makes me judgmental.