Who likes to judge or be the judge? How often do you find yourself judging? To whatever frequency you just admitted, I bet if you thoughtfully played back those daily rituals in your mind, you would surprise yourself in how much more judging you do than first thought. You probably judge the taste of your cup of java (“ah, so good” or “ugh, that’s bitter”), your reflection back in the morning mirror (“yikes, look at those bags and dark circles under my eyes”), and those other drivers on the road (“pay attention, what an idiot”). What are some of your thoughts when you arrive at work? How about the casual assessment of your colleague’s work (“that sucks, he should have been fired a long time ago”), the choice of your coworker’s attire (“what was she thinking”), and how about the leadership of your boss (“I could do better with half a brain”). Some of these judgments may be extreme, but you have to admit not uncommon. As humans we are so quick to judge without much thought, as if our judgment is fed from our five senses fueling our emotions which override our thinking brain, and in some cases, just barely stops at the tip of our tongues. How did it hear, look, taste, smell and feel? Did our ability to make quick judgment stem from our humanistic need for survival—the ability to make a quick threat assessment and spring into action to protect ourselves and ensure our safety. God made humans with this beautiful part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex” which gives us some incredible abilities that surpass all other living creatures on earth. Our pre-frontal cortex gifts us with the ability not to act on impulse or innate reflexes but to use reason and logic in assessing our living situations. So why don’t we seem use it more? Why is it so easy for us to pass judgment with hardly giving it a second thought? Could it be that we have not been burned badly enough by our quick conclusions to exert more cortex capacity? Humans can be conditioned!
So what does it feel like to be judged? When I ask this question, I am sure you can immediately conjure up a few examples that bring a twinge of pain even today after many years. Are you having a bit of an emotional rise? Unpleasant at best, maybe a bit angry at worst. As you dwell on some of these painful memories, some thoughts you may have are “but I just didn’t have a choice,” “I was young, stupid and didn’t get any slack,” and “if only they could walk in my shoes they would understand why I did what I did.” You may be right. If I walked in your shoes at that moment, I may have done exactly what you did and have more compassion for you today. You were judged, convicted and sentenced! Welcome to prison! You may not be incarcerated, but you are still a prisoner in your own mind. You cannot erase that memory or pain of how you were judged. Perhaps you feel you served your sentence by making amends, but why does it feel like the punishment is still life imprisonment? Being on the receiving end of judgment can be painful and leave scars for a lifetime. So if we can agree that being judged is unpleasant at best, why do we continue to give out what we hate to receive?
Let me clarify one point that typically comes into the discussion on judgment. Many people use discernment and judgment interchangeably, especially in the Christian world. Aren’t those the same? Not exactly. Discernment assesses value and typically leads to action whereas judgment just labels. Discernment is wisdom and understanding whereas judgment is an assessment of right or wrong, good versus bad. You can have discernment that a situation is unsafe, then take appropriate action to ensure your safety. Judgment would describe a situation as unsafe but not necessarily imply action. As humans we need discernment, but judgment does not serve ourselves or others as well. Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Not true! Hurtful, judgmental words cut deeper than any knife could, and many of those internal wounds may never heal. How many kids on the playground may have shouted those words in return to judgmental statements such as “You can’t hit the ball. I don’t want you on my team,” or “You’re wearing flood pants, did you borrow them from your baby brother?” Yes, I was a victim then. I now know that those cruel words left the mouth of babes because their immature pre-frontal cortex, yet you know, as a teacher supervising that playground, you might have thought those same words. Of course, you kept your mouth shut. If everyone understood the eternal, faithful love that God has for us, no one would be able to hurt us with words or actions, because we would understand that our identity and self-worth only reside in our loving God. Unfortunately, we do not live in this perfect world; therefore, work, possessions and human relationships have a heavy influence on people’s sense of self-worth and ability to feel loved and valued.
I will stipulate that judgment and subsequent consequences are completely appropriate and necessary in our law system. However, I will be honest that my heart breaks for those who have made mistakes, served their prison sentence, but have walls to climb in order to integrate back into community despite their deep desire to contribute to society. In the best of circumstances, think about those adults who have been convicted of a minor “F”elony, never harmed another individual, and only served probation. I have one of those friends who was convicted of drug possession, sentenced to probation for his first offense, but has to wear the “F” on his shirt like a scarlet letter. With his felony status he cannot live in any apartment complex, has few job opportunities, and is constantly judged unworthy. He is trying to do better but the system and community are both intentionally and unintentionally working against him. Sometimes the difference between a felony is only one person getting caught and the other not. We are all human, have weakness and possible addictions. Maybe he had too much dependence on marijuana which got him into trouble. Addiction is addiction and can manifest itself differently with each individual. Hoarding, alcohol, food, spending money, exercise and pornography can all become addictions if the behavior is taken to extreme, yet we typically judge people who have these additions differently. Why? Because those addictions happen to be legal, whereas in most states marijuana is still illegal.
Can we not have more compassion for those who are trying to help themselves in the moment? Can we stop labeling people as good or bad and start labeling people as hurt and in need or healthy and blessed? My heart hurts for those who are suffering under the heavy weight of judgment. I cannot change the world, but I can call it out with the hope that people will have greater pause and hopefully more awareness of their judgment. Instead of judging, why not lend a helping hand, or extend a kind word or gesture. Lift a human brother or sister up with words of affirmation versus tearing them down. But you may say, “I don’t say anything. I keep my thoughts to myself. My thoughts can’t hurt anyone.” I would disagree; those negative thoughts are carried in your body language and manifest themselves in choices of behavior towards others whether you are conscious of it or not.
And for those of you who made it to this point and thought, “Isn’t she judging?” My reply is, “Yes I am! I admit it. I’m judging with a purpose.” Am I suggesting that as humans we will suspend all judgment? Of course not, we all fall short of perfection. As sinners we can only challenge ourselves to do better! We should take the plank out of our own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s, as our own sin blinds us to the truth of the situation. My hope is you will be more thoughtful every time you catch yourself judging. Might this be one of those times where you make a different assessment or choice and change a life with words of encouragement or actions of a loving hand up? I pray that you do! I leave you with this final thought: Your judgment may say more about you than it does about the person you judge!