How to judge others. . . fairly

 
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A 14-year-old girl entering Year 9 laments that other students have judged and isolated her for being unattractive. A stay-at-home dad with three kids experiences judgement from others for being lazy and unmotivated, and for “living off his wife”. Canadian singer, Celine Dion, recently responded on social media to judgements and body shaming directed at her by individuals who said she’s too thin.

We have so many categories for judging people—by wealth, race, education, religion, gender, appearance, circumstance, language, weight, height, the cars we drive, the homes we own and more. Though Jesus simply and specifically commanded “do not judge” (Matthew 7:1), even those who identify as His followers do it anyway. Since this is a universal human trait, it becomes vital that we shape our judgements so that, rather than being harsh and unfair, they are kinder, gentler, balanced and just. Here are some ways to judge others . . . fairly.

Know and apply biblical teachings

Because the writers of Scripture understood the human tendency to judge, evaluate and form opinions about others, they uniformly taught that our judgements of others should be done with kindness and justice. Here are some samples. Read and reflect on these teachings from the Bible, allowing them to shape your personality and your spirituality:

  • Do not pervert justice. . . . Judge your neighbour fairly” (Leviticus 19:15)
  • “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9)
  • “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24)
  • “Who are you to judge your neighbour?” (James 4:12)
  • “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12)

Challenge your assumptions

Too often our assumptions are based on incomplete information and therefore slant toward the negative. Whenever you experience judgement emerging with an unfavourable view of another, challenge it. An example of this process is offered by psychologist and author Tara Brach: “Imagine you are walking through the woods and you see a small dog. It looks cute and friendly. You approach and move to pat the dog. Suddenly it snarls and tries to bite you. The dog no longer seems cute and you feel fear and possibly anger. Then, as the wind blows, the leaves on the ground are carried away and you see the dog has one of its legs caught in a trap. Now, you feel compassion for the dog. You know it became aggressive because it is in pain and is suffering.”

Brach’s wisdom is a reminder for us to challenge our initial impressions so that we see the larger picture.

Make your mind a no-judgement zone

A “no-judgement zone” mindset is one that understands and appreciates the reality that people are doing the best they can; that their way of managing a situation does not need to be the way we would choose to do it. A post by social media personality Ashle Potter was positively received by readers because of the way she commended mothers on their widely diverse parenting styles. Here’s what she posted:

“To the mum who’s breastfeeding: Way to go! It really is an amazing gift to give your baby, for any amount of time that you can manage! You’re a good mum.

“To the mum who’s formula feeding: Isn’t science amazing? To think there was a time when a baby with a mother who couldn’t produce enough would suffer. But now? Better living through chemistry! You’re a good mum.

“To the cloth nappy mum: So friendly on the bank account. You’re a good mum.

“To the disposable nappy mum: It’s excellent to not worry about leakage and laundry! You’re a good mum.

“To the mum who stays home: I can imagine it isn’t easy doing what you do, but to spend those precious years with your babies must be amazing. You’re a good mum.

“To the mum who works: It’s wonderful that you’re sticking to your career, you’re a positive role model for your children in so many ways, it’s fantastic. You’re a good mum.”

Don’t rush to reach a negative opinion

That advice comes from Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in his book A Code of Jewish Ethics. To make his point clear, he relates a decades-old incident revolving around a photograph. A newspaper published a picture of new United States senators taking their oath of office. A few days later, the editorial office received an irate letter from a reader complaining that one of the senators “didn’t know his right hand from his left”. The letter writer had noticed that the senator from Hawaii was clearly shown with his left hand raised. However, the writer did not take time to learn that the Senator Daniel Inouye—a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart—had enlisted in the army right after Pearl Harbour and had lost his right hand fighting for his country. Rabbi Telushkin notes, “A person of wisdom, maturity and compassion is characterised by the ability to delay rushing to reach a negative conclusion about another individual and, instead, seek more information.”

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Offer the benefit of doubt

When social scientist Elizabeth Dorrance Hall walks her dog around her local area, she waves and greets her neighbours who are in their yards or driving by, saying, “I want to create a friendly neighbourhood environment, so I do this as much as I can.” Occasionally she gets no response from her neighbours. Rather than make personality attributions about them, thinking negatively about them, or concluding they’re unfriendly, she says, “I give them the benefit of the doubt and think about situational reasons they might not wave back at me. Perhaps they are distracted because they just got a phone call from their mum and learned she is not doing well. Maybe they are stressed at work and therefore distracted at home. Maybe they have earbuds in and literally did not hear me say hello. Making situational attributions instead of personality ones about my neighbours makes me feel better, since I do not think my neighbours are jerks, and makes my future communication with them better for the same reason.”

Never judge by appearance

“Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance,” advised seventeenth century French poet Jean de La Fontaine. The fact is that what we see seldom reflects reality and when we give free rein to our judgements based on appearance, we often miss the truth about an individual. Writer and wellness coach Louise Jensen tells about a time in her thirties when a car accident caused her painful spinal damage and aggravated other pre-existing conditions. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair or crutches.

Seeking to lift her spirits, Jensen’s partner presented her with theatre tickets. Though getting in and out of public facilities required meticulous planning, Jensen was excited to attend the show. Here is what transpired: “We were lucky enough to be able to park in the disabled parking spot right outside the venue (I am registered disabled and have a badge). We sat in the car and discussed whether I should take my crutches inside, as I was quite anxious about blocking the aisles. We decided that with his support I would manage the few steps inside without them.” As she was helped out of the vehicle, a man in a nearby car wound down his window and shouted at Jensen and her partner that they should be ashamed of themselves for parking there. His outrage and outburst was a judgement based on appearance. Jensen didn’t look disabled.

Jumping to conclusions

This negative habit is so common there is now an acronym for it: JTC. According to neuro-psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, JTC is “a process that leads people to assume, wrongly, that a situation presents them with physical, social or psychological harm. In other words, you’re confronted with an emotionally ambiguous situation and automatically conclude that the situation will come out badly for you, because other people are out to hurt you.” That attitude can limit and even damage relationships if it is not neutralised.

Consider the experience of writer Julia Attaway who recalls a time when she was “annoyed” that a friend in whom she had confided a difficult problem hadn’t been in touch with her for some time. Maybe she doesn’t want to be close to someone with a problem, was her immediate thought. A short time later, the friend texted Attaway seeking to arrange a play date for their children. “I texted back and, as a habitual afterthought, added, ‘How are you doing?’” The friend replied, saying her family life was in turmoil because her husband had moved out three weeks earlier and they were still adjusting to the change. Attaway writes, “I was glad this news came via text rather than in person, so she couldn’t see the look of shame on my face. Her silence wasn’t about me and my problems at all. Her silence was a reflection of her own problems . . . which only goes to show that there’s almost always an explanation other than the uncharitable one that first comes to mind.”

By being more aware and intentional about our opinions and judgements of others, we can move toward a direction that creates greater harmony and hospitality, while reducing dislike and disapproval.

 

Victor Parachin is an ordained minister, bereavement educator and the author of several books. He lives in Oklahoma, USA.