I’ve always been fascinated by our tendency as human beings to judge one another.
It feels good to judge. It makes one feel superior to the other. That’s also why we can’t stand to be judged. No one appreciates feeling inferior, especially when the person on their high horse is guilty of something equally wrong or worse than the thing for which we’re being judged.
So what do we do? How does one respond to the trauma of being unfairly judged?
Well, one often fights fire with fire, handing down their own judgment on others to elevate themselves above the people or institutions that made them feel unfairly judged.
It’s a vicious cycle that hurts both the judge and the judged.
People who identify as Christians often get the reputation of being some of the most judgmental people around. I’d like to defend my Christian brothers and sisters from such a charge, but I have been both a recipient and a participant in the fratricide unleashed among the faithful.
Although Christians fall short, Christ himself doesn’t condone judgmental attitudes or behaviors. No wonder then, he describes these with a graphic and absurd visual.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:3-5
A ridiculous image, right? Someone with a 2×4 in their eye is concerned with the speck of dust in someone else’s. What I find telling is Jesus’ statement in verse 5, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (emphasis mine)
There’s a legitimate need to help each other when we mess up, but judging doesn’t help. It only hurts. As the judgmental person looks around for someone to judge, the beam in their eye is like a blindfolded kid swinging at a pinata, taking out everyone and everything in its range. When the judge tries to “help” another person, the beam becomes a battering ram that bloodies and bruises the recipient.
For the judge? That swinging beam sends everyone running for cover, getting away from them as fast as they can, leaving them alone. Think about it, do you know many judgmental people with many real friends? Have you met a joyful judgmental person? Far from being the life of the party, they have a way of clearing the room. So, with that eye-beam of theirs banging away, it gets driven deeper and deeper into the eye of the judge, just making things worse.
For good reason, Jesus said, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see to remove the speck in another’s eye. The solution is self-awareness. Being aware of your own issues, weaknesses, biases, and blind spots. In other words, one must look in the mirror at themselves before looking out of the window at anyone else. It keeps us grounded in what’s real about ourselves and others. It keeps us humble. It gives us pause to take inventory so that if we do intervene, we’re doing so with caution, care, and more than a little humility since we could have misunderstood or misinterpreted the whole thing. As a wise mentor told me, “Kevin always reserve the right to be wrong.”
That’s a great message to would-be judges. But what’s the message for the judged? What if the person who took a 2×4 to you is still wielding it like Hacksaw Jim Duggan? Well, of course, stay out of their path of destruction. Establish boundaries and protect yourself from their toxic behavior. But how do we move forward from someone whose judgmental attitude is entrenched?
Three things. First and foremost, remember that no one is worthy to judge except God. Second, you are not responsible for another person’s attitude. In fact, while you may have a measure of responsibility to someone (kiddos, spouse, friends, etc…), you are only responsible for yourself. So, their reluctance or refusal to change their ways is not your responsibility – at all. Finally, there’s a consistent dynamic that studies in human behavior have been teaching us for a long time; people who are overly critical, judgmental, or who project similar traits overwhelmingly possess an unhealthy view of themselves. Whether it’s self-bitterness, self-disappointment, or full-on self-loathing, people who have not processed their own hurts in healthy and transformative ways will transfer that unhealthy self-loathing onto you and me. Add to this that some of the harshest judgment comes from people doing the very thing they judge others for, and you have a real mess. So, some of the people who judge the most, love themselves the least.
I think this is an excellent buffer for the urge to retaliate when someone judges us. I’ll be the first to admit that I’d enjoy letting those judges have it. However, if I keep in mind that there’s likely a story of pain behind that attitude, it can go a long way to keep us from fighting fire with fire. No wonder Jesus also tells us to stay out of the judgment business since we’re not really consistent or qualified (Matthew 7:1).
Some of you might think I’m suggesting behavioral license, free-range parenting, no accountability workplaces, or some other “anything-goes” mentality. Not at all! Making a judgment call sometimes is essential, but we do so with an attitude of confident humility and healthy assertiveness. After all, truth without grace is utter brutality, and grace without truth is empty sentimentality.
So, back to judgment … When you’re on the receiving end of a judgmental tirade that was not an intervention intended to help you, remember that how others judge you is often a reflection of how they judge themselves. My granny summed this up in one of her famous one-liners, “There’s something about that ‘ol boy that I don’t like about me.” Let that one sink in. Granny was right! I mean, I have to admit that I can get pretty judgmental when I’m behind on a deadline and I’m mad at myself for mismanaging my time, or when I’ve made a mistake and I become insecure about my own abilities, or when my own lack of self-control makes me want to soothe my guilt by lashing out at your lapse in self-control. When I don’t like me very much, I’m certainly not going to like you.
So there’s a silver lining to the dark cloud of judgment; someone’s judgment of you need not define you, but it can help refine you. Suppose we suspend the urge to react and consider how harsh, unfair, or unsubstantiated judgment reflects the judge more than the judged? In that case, it can help us become better by refining our own self-awareness, improving our self-care, and adopting a healthier level of self-love. It’s no wonder Jesus said that to love our neighbor, we must love God AND learn to receive and apply his love for us and each other by learning to love ourselves.