Two prostitutes stood on the sidewalk looking for work. One was a young man not more than nineteen, the other, a woman in her thirties. Both were angry at life and carried that burden on their faces. They were lost in an addiction and had long since stopped trying to hide the track marks that raced along their veins.
An old man walking down the road noticed them and immediately crossed the street to get as far away as he could. He thought, “Filthy, disgusting people. Their souls must be as black as the bruises on their arms—it’s that junk they inject into their veins. They’re the ones who attacked that woman the other day. The boy shoved her to the ground and threatened to beat her while the other one grabbed her purse. What a couple of animals. They are why this neighborhood has gotten so bad. I’ve seen them around. I’ve seen how they lie, cheat, steal, spread their legs, get on their knees, and bend over. They’ll do whatever it takes to get them their next hit. I hate people like that.”
Another old man walking the other direction noticed the young man and woman. He thought, “Oh my, there they are again. I guess they didn’t get caught after hurting that woman the other day. That was brutal. How’d they get to this point? It seems obvious they are on drugs, their bodies tell me that much. I wonder what their back stories are. If they’re hooking and using they’ve probably had it pretty rough. Is there anything I can do? Would they even let me help if I could? Gosh this neighborhood is hurting. What should I do?"
At this point the second man reached the young man and woman. He summoned up some courage, looked them both in the eyes and said, “This may sound crazy but know that I care about you. I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through—can’t even be sure you want or need my help. What I can say is that I walk this street every day and if you’re looking for someone to talk to, I’ll be around.”
Neither the young man nor the woman said anything. The second man continued walking, having no idea if he had done more harm than good. The first man, having overheard what the second had said thought, “Now there’s an even bigger idiot than the other two.”
None of us wants to be judged by others. It hurts and it does us no good (it doesn’t benefit the person who judges, either).
All of us need support and guidance at times. This requires others to judge our behavior and teach us how to live healthier, happier, more loving lives.
To judge people is to condemn them in our heart and mind, to write them off, to think of them as less valuable than someone else. When we judge people, we do not leave room for grace, mercy, and reconciliation. In this way, judgment fuels division and conflict. When we judge those who are different than us and do not share our values, we become intolerant, guaranteeing our misery in this diverse world. Racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination are examples of ways we judge other people. From the Christian perspective, judging is equivalent to sending someone to heaven or hell in our heart or mind, and Christ told all his followers not to judge others (Matthew 7:1).
The effects of judging others vary. If those who are judged are particularly sensitive to the opinions of others, the judgment they receive can be devastating; if someone who is judged is highly confident and has a strong sense of self worth, any negative effects of being judged are often fleeting. When the person doing the judging is particularly powerful or if it occurs at the societal level, even the most resilient people suffer damaging effects such as the denial of their civil rights and violence.
To judge a behavior is to decide if an action is healthy, beneficial, or consistent with a moral standard. The tools we use to judge behavior include science, philosophy, and (for some) religion. For example, we can use science to assess the harmful effects of drug abuse, philosophy to help us formulate our argument explaining why drug abuse is dangerous, and religion to help us understand why drug abuse is morally objectionable. In this way we can judge drug abuse to be unhealthy and wrong without judging the person who abuses drugs.
When we decide whether or not to voice our judgment of someone’s behavior, we need to be careful to choose words that communicate loving concern, not criticism or condemnation. Before speaking up, we should ask ourselves if our words are likely fall on deaf ears or if they will keep someone from wanting to be in relationship with us. We should do everything we can to respect others’ free will and preserve a relationship with them. When we do speak, we need to avoid using harsh language like “You make dumb decisions” and instead say something like, “I’m worried you will end up hurting yourself.” It is easy for people to confuse judging a behavior for judging a person and we need to be sensitive to this.
Without the ability to read minds and hearts, it is impossible at times to tell if someone is judging the person or the behavior. For example, the first man in the vignette could have told someone, “Those two are sick,” as a way of reinforcing his judgment of them as people. The second man could also have told someone “Those two are sick,” as a way of empathizing with their addiction and softening his heart. It is the intent behind words and actions that ultimately determines if someone is judging a person or a behavior.
Love and Judgment
When we love others, we take notice and make judgments about their behavior. It is impossible to be a good parent, spouse, or friend if we do not talk with our loved ones about our concerns from time to time.
In my next blog, I will discuss responsibility and how it relates to judgment.