If you judge people, you have no time to love them. – Mother Theresa
The fact is, no matter how much we think we ‘shouldn’t’ judge, we are so conditioned to do so that without increasing our self-awareness, we will not only judge one another but we will continually judge ourselves and even our judgments!
In order to begin gently upping our awareness, it is useful to make a clear distinction about what constitutes a judgment (as opposed to an assessment or distinction, both of which are essential in the process of making decisions and moving towards goals).
Here’s the distinction that I use, based on the work of Barry Neil Kaufman:1 A judgment is any evaluation of something as being good, bad, right or wrong.
First the obvious. We all have weaknesses and strengths. And all of our strengths have a shadow side. We can help one another with these errors in judgment, inconsistencies, and down right stupid behavior. How? When we approach others knowing our own proclivity for bad behavior, we approach them with humility. This turns judgmental thinking into helpful feedback. We disarm the defensive. The recipient is more receptive and the results are more productive.
Now don’t misunderstand. It’s up to the other person to respond. The point is that we have not added poison to the well. Without this humility the temptation is to engage in unfair fault-finding and injustice collecting.
When we judge we are essentially setting ourselves up as moral arbiters, claiming we know best what God wants or the world is supposed to be like. Not only is this a trifle presumptuous, it creates an environment where conflict and violence are both natural and ongoing.
An attitude of humility is an antidote. It’s an antidote to gossip, back biting, injustice collecting, or what is referred to in football as piling on. In extreme cases we can put a person or a group into a virtual box. That becomes our definition of who they are. That often times defines them on a personal level. We are then able to add or subtract certain characteristics as we feel appropriate. This becomes the person’s or the group’s definition. The ability to sustain that identity rests on the observer’s ability to keep them “other”. If we get too close then the definitive lines begin to fade. We see that we have more in common than our first—and more importantly—our distant perspective.
I once heard a story that supplies an example of how we can error in our outlooks and attitudes toward others.
A young couple moved into a neighborhood. Their next door neighbors were Don and Alice. One morning as they were eating breakfast, Alice looked out her window seeing her young neighbor hanging out her wash to dry. She observed that her neighbor’s laundry wasn’t very clean. Alice said to Don, “Our young neighbor doesn’t know how to clean her clothes.” Don, reading his paper, didn’t say a word. This went on for some time and Alice observed the laundry from her kitchen window while making the same comment. Don as he had done each time before, didn’t say a word. Several weeks later, Alice, to her surprise, looked out the window and saw a fresh, clean row of wash hanging out drying. Alice said, “Don, look! Our neighbor has finally learned how to clean her laundry. I wonder who taught her?” Don said, “Sweetie. I might have an answer. I got up early this morning and washed the windows.” Then Don said, “I guess we finally learned how to clean the windows.”
We all look out our own windows, and much of what we observe is reflected through our own looking glasses. How are your windows looking?
Edward Wallis Hoch said,
There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us,
To talk about the rest of us. 2
Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speak of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? First take the plank from your own eye. And then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.3
In other words, it would be wise to focus on our own windows before we worry about someone else’s dirty laundry.
Here’s an exercise:
Think about something or someone you are judging to be good, bad, right or wrong. What is the opinion or preference you are basing your judgment around?
Let go of at least one judgment today. You can do this by converting it to the opinion or preference behind it, or even by letting go of defending it. If you like how it feels, let go of more. Even letting go of just one judgment a day can lead to a tangible increase in your sense of happiness and well-being.
Share your some of your thoughts and/or experience with us.
1Barry Neil Kaufman, “Happiness Is A Choice”, Ballantine Books, 1994.
2Edward Wallis Hoch, Marion Record (Kansas). 17th Governor of Kansas.
3New International Version, Bible. Matthew 7:3-5