As I grow older I am deeply grateful to find myself becoming less judgmental of others. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that life has knocked me around enough to teach me that I don’t know everything. I am not as “sure” about everything as I was in my youth. I find it so liberating to let go of my need to put a tag on everything – to name everything as good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable. I have come to a place where I can respect someone else’s journey because I respect MY OWN journey.
You see, my life hasn’t turned out at all like I thought it would. I dreamed of a life of straight lines and direct routes to my goals and dreams. Instead, I have wandered a switchback trail up the side of a steep mountain. I have fallen in pits. I have gotten lost. I have tripped and fallen in rut after rut. There have been no straight lines about it. But in the wandering I have learned some things – things that might prove useful to you on your journey.
First of all, let’s think about what it means to judge. To judge means to assess the value of something. It means to determine the worth or quality of something and then to ascribe it a rank or position. We see this everywhere in life; in school, in the media, on the ball field, in the grocery store, and in the church. Our culture is inundated with systems designed to judge everything. No wonder we begin to judge each other. It is the way our flawed culture strives to assign value and order itself. But this is not the natural way of the universe. Look around, flowers co-exist with amazing diversity in complete harmony. Rivers do not compete to be the largest or fastest. They simple “are.” Animals do not waste precious time trying to determine what to do to one-up each other – they just live. Planets spin replete in an unwavering confidence all their own. The natural world seems to have a sense of itself and its purpose. Only man doubts his value.
So why do humans judge? It is actually very simple. We judge because we do not have a sense of our own value and so judging makes us feel better about ourselves. It supports our religious beliefs (even though most religions clearly instruct us not to judge), supports our prejudices, supports our feelings of superiority, or supports our need to feel in control. The bottom line is that judging others is a pride issue – doing it makes us momentarily feel better about ourselves. In judging we have sorted our world and put people in their place – most often conveniently beneath us.
On occasion we will judge and rank ourselves beneath others. We deem ourselves “less than.” Actually, we judge ourselves every time we judge someone else. We determine our order in the universe. Judging ourselves to be above or below anyone else is still pride. We assume that we are less or more – not equal. When we judge we give ourselves permission to elevate or demote someone – even ourselves – that is pride. We are not the judge of anyone – even ourselves. We are only qualified to live the one life we have been given. No one can do a better job of being me than I can – mistakes and all. The same is true of you! We must realize that we are only qualified to live and to try to understand our own lives. We cannot judge others and be true to ourselves.
Judgment versus Discernment: It is important to know the difference between judgment and discernment. Judgment leaves us feeling vindicated, smug, self-satisfied, or in a different “place” than the person we have judged ourselves against. We are somewhere in the equation. But discernment is a sense about someone that yields information which we hold loosely as we observe them. It does not involve ranking that person or comparing that person to ourselves. Discernment is very important and helpful in life. It can keep us from getting involved in situations that may be harmful, or give us insight into a person’s behavior. Discernment is a tool that helps us navigate this world. Judgment just arranges people in our minds. Judgment says, “That guy is no good.” Discernment says, “My gut tells me not to trust that person.” One is a disqualifier, the other is a warning.
So how do we stop judging? First we must accept that we are NOT THE JUDGE! You are a card-carrying member of the human race who is equal to every other member. If that statement frustrates you then you don’t know the value of who you are. If being equal to everyone else isn’t good enough for you then you have lost sight of your own value and worth. You want to see yourself as better because you don’t know that you are profoundly unique and have a value that cannot be assessed by comparison. There is no one like you. You exist as a completely unique individual. There is no way to compare you to anyone else because there is no other likeness of you. That can be said of every other human as well – in this way we are all equal – in our extraordinary individualism. To judge is to diminish our own value by trying to compare ourselves with another human whose life is totally different than our own. We will never know each other well enough or see deeply enough into another’s heart to be qualified to judge them. You may discern a truth about them, but you can’t judge them. You are not qualified.
Next we need to respect our own journey. When I began to realize that choices I knew I had to make could easily be misconstrued as something they were not, I gained some important and much needed humility. I did not want people to judge my decisions because they could not begin to understand why I was making these choices. My decisions were mine and I had good reason for them. I did not want be judged. This made me want to show more respect for the decisions of others. Maybe they had reasons for what they were doing that I could not understand. My respect for my OWN journey gave me respect for other’s and their journey.
The quickest cure for being judgmental is to know your own worth and value. When you do there will be no need to judge anyone else. We are all equal in that we are all totally unique – the mystery is right in front of us. Let’s take a cue from nature and learn to revel in being ourselves – no judgment or comparison necessary.
Why do people judge each other? Let's talk about that.