Like millions of other Americans, I woke up this morning to the memory that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong during the Super Bowl last night. (I’m not hating, Patriot fans, just venting.) I was shaking my head, thinking “Tom Brady has ANOTHER ring. Really?!” Then I had to catch myself: On what basis did I judge this as a bad thing? (1) I strive for excellence without exception in my own life, so that can’t be it. (2) I’m not a football aficionado (like some of you) with legitimate stats on player performance, so that wasn’t it. (3) I’ve never met Tom Brady before (although I still remember Deflategate), so we’ve never had a negative interaction. So as for me, I have arrived at my own opinions of Brady and his team based purely on the judgments of public opinion.
Then the Spirit reminded me: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2).” Despite the fact that the Word of God commands us not to judge, we often find ourselves evaluating the “rightness” or “wrongness” of others. “If I were her, I would let that man go!” “How did she choose to wear that to church today?!” “Why didn’t he at least finish high school?” These are some of the judgmental statements that we mutter under our breath, or even worse, that we say out loud, in the company of others who need more of our light and less of our darkness. It has become such an ingrained habit that we often judge automatically, without thinking about the repercussions of our thoughts and words. Sadly, our family and religious cultures support such judgmentalism. Get most of our families together and you’ll observe that we can quickly pile on judgment as a group, even feeding off of each other. And one of the most common criticisms of Christians, often appropriately earned, is that we are “too judgmental.”
How have we fallen so far from grace, from the very commandment that instructs us not to judge? Well, part of the reality is that our human nature is given to tearing each other down rather than building each other up. It sometimes makes us feel better about ourselves when we can portray another in a less favorable light. Social psychologists use the theory of downward social comparison to explain how we often compare ourselves to others who we believe are performing less well than we are to boost our self-esteem. (Unfortunately, using upward social comparison to measure ourselves against those who we perceive are doing better than us has the effect of leaving us feeling worse about ourselves.) So judging others seems to leave us with a psychological benefit.
That “benefit” is short-lived, however. Not only are we often incorrect in our perceptions of “right” and “wrong,” but we often can fall prey to the very weapon that we’ve used against others. Yes, we can become extremely judgmental of ourselves. I have observed countless clients talk themselves out of pursuing their dreams, or even reaching for a weekly goal, because they judged that there were “too ___________” or “not _________ enough” to get the job done. Often, this self-judgment is one that they’ve learned from early childhood: “You’re not smart enough to become a doctor.” “Your skin is too dark to become a model.” “You are too lazy to ever amount to anything!” Or perhaps the messages were more subtle: a disapproving look when you wore certain clothing, an abrupt change of subject when you raised issues important to you, or a lack of support or attendance at events that you were enthusiastic about. So now as an adult, you have internalized the judgment and disdain to perfection, and it unleashes itself automatically in your mind.
One of the most important steps in releasing yourself from judgmentalism is to first recognize how deeply entrenched it is in your life. How often do you catch yourself passing judgment on someone else? On yourself? Do your friends describe you as judgmental? Have your relationships suffered as a result of your sharing a critical viewpoint in a cold manner at a most inopportune time? We are often standing in judgment about situations that we don’t know the first thing about. We don’t know the history, the lack of resources, negative messaging, or the other complex factors that contribute to a person’s decision making. Even when it comes to judging ourselves, we often don’t have full self-awareness of why we do the things we do, or don’t do the things we don’t do.
Once you recognize how pervasive the pattern is in your life, are you willing to turn the tide? You can become a less judgmental person by taking on a more compassionate attitude towards others, and towards yourself. Being compassionate is not the same thing as ignoring or approving wrongdoing. Reflect on the story of the woman who was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus by the teachers and Pharisees (John 8:1-11). Her accusers demanded that she be stoned and were so bent on her condemnation that they even quoted the law of Moses to Jesus, as if he had forgotten the rules. (For treatment of the subject of why the man caught in adultery with her did not appear in this passage, see the section on Double Standards.) Jesus initially ignored them, but as they pressed him for a response, he stated, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone (v. 7, KJV).” Slowly but surely, her accusers departed. Jesus noted to the woman that no one had condemned her, and that he would not condemn her either, although as the Son of God without sin, he could have condemned her. So did Jesus say, “Do you, Boo”? No! He told her to go and to leave her life of sin, giving a compassionate acknowledgement that she could do better, and empowering her to do so. Compassion empowers, while judgment destroys. We must remember that God is our ultimate Judge, and God will judge us in the end. Yet this is the same God who gives us countless chances to become more godly, the same God who is constantly looking beyond our faults to see and meet our needs.
Often, the best way to overcome thinking and saying judgmental statements is thinking and saying compassionate statements. Instead of thinking, “She knows better than sending those kids to school looking so disheveled!” think “I wonder what difficulty she is going through in her life right now. I will pray for the Lord to meet her needs.” Or even more brazenly, “I wonder what would happen in my relationship with my children if I didn’t insist on them looking perfect all the time. I will pray for the Lord to help me with my perfectionism!” Confessing to God that you have judged when God told you not to judge, and committing to replace judgmentalism with compassion, especially towards yourself, will work amazing results in your life. Don’t hate: appreciate!
À votre santé (“To your health”),