Thursday, November 10, 2011

Judging vs. Being Judgmental (in which I probably come across as judgmental)

I just came away from a post about what is wrong with our society, which made me remember that I've been wanting to write this post for a long time.

One of my fears is of being perceived as judgmental.  Scratch that.  I don't care too terribly much how I'm perceived, my fear is of being actually judgmental.  It is hard.  Especially because I judge.  Oh, how I judge.  I judge that lying is wrong 99.9% of the time.  I judge that breaking the commandments is wrong, no matter what a person's excuses.  Including if they don't know about the commandment condemning it.  If God says something is wrong, I just think he's right, every time.

Does that mean that everyone who doesn't keep every commandment is guilty?  I don't believe so.  I certainly hope not!  And does it mean that people who break important commandments are always bad people?  Don't be stupid (you dummy!).  Of course it doesn't.

Let's take Ethan Frome for example.  He allowed himself to fall in love with a woman who was not his wife.  It is heartbreaking to read.  He has a story.  Do I think he was bad?  No.  Do I think he was wrong?  Absolutely.  Would I have acted better under his exact circumstances?  I can't say.  Most likely not.  It doesn't change the fact that some things are wrong.

Judging (righteously), I think, is knowing the difference between right and wrong.  It is the ability to draw a (usually) clear line between what is good and what is bad.  The good kind of judging refers ALWAYS to to a behavior or choice or action.

If I say that dressing immodestly is wrong, I am judging immodesty.  If I see someone dressed immodestly, I can think that it is wrong to dress that way.  I think this is a good thing to think, and what is expected of us.  (not to go around thinking about every choice everyone makes, but knowing in our minds and hearts which things are good and which aren't).

But what is not expected of us, and what is as wrong (or wronger!) than the immodesty itself, is if I think, "Ick.  She's nasty.  What a ----", or place a value on her personal worth in any other way.  It's being judgemental.  It is wrong.  I do my best to keep from allowing myself to shift from seeing "wrong/bad behavior" to "a person who is wrong/bad".  Of course this is quite simple if I just remember that everyone has a story--reasons behind why they do what they do or think how they think.  I have absolutely no authority to judge anothers' motives.  And I'm glad.  What a responsibility!

But unfortunately judging a behavior is almost always taken in our day for being judgmental.  To claim that something is a "bad" thing is to be INTOLERANT.  Suddenly it is taken to mean that I personally will not stand for it.  I just will not tolerate others' wrong choices.  And, clearly, that I have an aversion to the person who commits such acts or even those who disagree with me about the choice.

It used to be a matter of moral right and wrong but all those lines have become so blurred that the only real "wrong" seems to be when you point out that there actually is a black and a white.  But there is.  And saying that everything is gray makes the world as useful as static on a TV screen.  Separate the black and white and you can see moving pictures and scenes that offer value to the observer.  Something can be understood.

I think there is some good in being able to say "It's your thing, do what you want."  But I think that if that's all we ever say, there is something wrong. Especially if we consider there to be some sort of inherent rightness in another person's choices, simply because they made them.  This is how it seems we are being taught to feel.

A phrase I hear a lot is "living your truth."  Thanks for that one, Satan.  The world loves it!!  Doing what you want--what makes you "happy"--regardless of your creators opinion and instruction.  It's a new truth.  Create your own truth, and live by it.  This has somehow become the new mark of goodness.  "She's living her truth."  Well, good for her.  Except that truth is something that IS, and if your "truth" contradicts it, it's known as a lie.

I believe that God does have an opinion.  And that he's always right.  I think that judging that what He says is true, without casting judgment on the motives of those who don't follow him (often unwittingly!), is a good thing.  An example:

My mother-in-law smokes.  As a Mormon I believe that God doesn't want us to smoke.  It is wrong.  I believe that she is doing something that is wrong.  I am not judging her.  I am judging the action.  I have no idea on earth as to whether or not she is guilty.  My brain tells me that she is only as guilty as her religion teaches her she is (?).  Mostly, though, it doesn't matter.  She can do whatever she wants and I have no problem with it at all (except, of course, that I don't want her actions to cause her to die too soon, please.).  But if I say that I believe it is wrong, black like the color I wish her lungs weren't, please don't tell me that it's actually as gray as the smoke she is exhaling.  (okay, maybe that line is a bit much...)

I think it would be nice if we could just live in a world where we allowed each other to make choices and didn't think too much about it, and certainly weren't asked to state our opinion about it.  But we live in a time when I think it is becoming increasingly important from time to time for us to stand with God, even outside of our own homes, and to share what we believe he expects of us, even when it comes across as being judgmental.  And it is not easy.  I just wish I could go on watching the scenes on the screen without having to explain what kept me staring for so long to someone who sees nothing but static on the same screen.


gramalee said...

Why ever would one willingly read Ethan Frome? Seriously. 'splain.

Laura said...

I think you make a very important distinction here that I wish more people understood. I also wish people were less "judgmental" of those of us who stand with God on certain issues.
I admit though, when someone's wrong actions affect me or my family in an adverse way, it makes it pretty difficult to separate the person from the action in a non-judgmental way.

Barbaloot said...

It definitely is important to distinguish between judging the person and judging the action. We are told we need to judge righteously---and I think that's what it means. We need to judge what is correct and what is not, but we don't need to pass judgment on others.

TheOneTrueSue said...

I actually think that the W of W is not a very good example of what you are talking about. Non-members are not under any covenant to live by our health code. They are not wrong for drinking coffee or tea. (Unhealthy for smoking, sure. But not morally wrong.) They have never been asked to live by that particular health code. As members we have covenanted to obey that health code, but they have not. Just as the Jewish people were under covenant to eat kosher under the law of Moses. But we are not under that covenant now. We are not morally wrong for eating shellfish. That is not a law we have been asked to obey. I try to make this distinction clear with my kids. I don’t want them to judge my cousin (who is not a member) for enjoying her morning cup of coffee. She is not doing something wrong. She has not been asked to live otherwise.

But overall, I get what you are saying, although I think we have to be really careful about it. It is too easy to get caught up in feeling self-righteous about the judgments we make.

TheOneTrueSue said...

And I hate Ethan Frome. The book, the character, everything. He was such a victim. And anyone who cheats on their wife, for ANY reason is just a piece of crap. Including Ethan Frome. I was glad that his life ended up a total mess. I thought he deserved it. If you aren't happy with your wife, divorce her. But don't cheat on her.

TheOneTrueSue said...

(See, that's me being judgmental. I will totally own that.)

Lara said...

I feel the same way you do about the whole "authentic living" and "living your truth" movement. Can anybody say "natural man?"


Great post. And I totally get it. While it can be really hard to judge the action and not the actor, or to hate the sin and love the sinner, it is a necessary thing. We can't just "not judge" at all.

Susan said...

It's so true! It is really tricky, trying to get people to understand when you make a judgment of a behavior, that you are not judging the one doing the behavior. Even the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin" just having the word "hate" in there makes it sound judgmental or intolerant, even when the love the sinner is there. I guess since the only time you can really call someone a sinner is when you're mentioning that "we're all sinners."

I can't wait to have discussions with you in SoCal!!

Kazzy said...

Like Sue, I have non-member family members that have served as great discussion starters for my kids. I like the idea of being held to standards we have been asked to keep (using the W of W as an example), but I do agree that many kinds of standards seem very common sense, like abstaining from premarital sex.

Judging the action and not the person... sometimes that is tougher than it sounds, huh?

Boundless Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. said...
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Carolyn V said...

I agree. We need to chose what is right and wrong. And sometimes that comes from watching others. Even if it's difficult.

Love your post Lisa. =)

Adams Scott said...
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Cindy Dy said...
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