Throughout the world, the great teachings have warned us not to pass judgment on other people. Rather than judging and criticizing people destructively, we are urged to show mercy and compassion.
The Jewish law states (Leviticus 19:15) that if we must judge, we must judge fairly — and commentaries teach that we must always give others the benefit of the doubt.
From the Buddhist tradition: “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama. The mission of the bodhisattva is to sacrifice one’s own progress toward enlightenment by helping others get there.
From Christianity: In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7 Jesus teaches us not to judge others, or we, too, will be judged. Further, that we should regard others as better than ourselves.
From Hinduism: “The vile are ever prone to detect the faults of others, though they be as small as mustard seeds, and persistently shut their eyes against their own, though they be as large as Vilva fruit.” – Garuda Purana 112
You might ask, “How do I teach right and wrong to my kids without judging? How do I make good decisions without forming some judgments? How can I avoid bad company without judging whether another person is safe and decent?” Good questions. The great lessons tell us to beware of negative personalities and to avoid such people, and when appropriate and necessary, to correct others with a caring attitude. Naturally, we are called upon to make judgments in order to make wise decisions. Nothing wrong with that kind of judging.
But, passing judgment on people is different; it’s not just about evaluating behavior, it’s about putting down a person or group, and about making god-like pronouncements about, for example, how the wicked will pay for their sins. Once, when visiting some friendly neighbors in their home, the two young brothers began to squabble, as brothers often do. They accused and blamed each other about some petty disagreement, did some salty name-calling, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we could hear them. At one point the older boy said to his brother, “You better shut up or you’re going to hell!” Then the words really started to fly!
This kind of holier-than-thou assertion exists not only in families, but within factions of religions, political parties and systems and nations. There seems to be no end to our desire to pass judgment on other people.
Now, I’m assuming that you’re reading this because you want peace and harmony in your relationships. We can hope all people would wish for this. After all, one of mankind’s deepest fears is the fear of being alone. And we’re less likely to be alone if we get along and feel supported by others. We need to feel connected to others, if for no other reason than self-preservation; strength in numbers, as the saying goes.
If we think about this reality, judging others is a losing proposition — apart from the role of the legal system in a civilized society. The moment we pass judgment on another person, we lose. How? Because when we judge, we create a separation between that person and ourselves. They and we are no longer equals. When we pass judgment, we place ourselves above the person whom we judge, and assume “moral authority” over them. We call ourselves The Judge, and treat the object of judgment as The Defendant, whom we proclaim to be guilty. We say we’re entitled to do this, because we know right from wrong, and the other person is either ignorant, or purposely disregards the moral code. This sort of thing happens within families and among friends all too often. And it can rip a family apart.
But the harm to families and friendships is not the only problem. When, in the act of passing judgment, we call ourselves superior and develop an inflated ego, we make ourselves more psychologically and emotionally vulnerable. From that height, we have quite a bit to lose: reputation, power, stature. The higher the position we give ourselves, the greater the anxiety about losing. As we feel more threatened, should we come under a personal attack, the more stress we will experience, and the more irrational we can be.
Here’s an example from the movies. Woody Allen’s 1989 drama, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, revolves around a crisis in the life of a celebrated doctor. In the opening of the picture, he is at a formal banquet in his honor, attended by hundreds of people. The occasion for the banquet is that the doctor is to receive an award recognizing his professional and humanitarian accomplishments. Later in the story, we learn that he has had a stormy extramarital affair, and his former lover, whom he dumped, is threatening to tell his wife. He is a man who cannot afford this. So, he calls his brother, the black sheep of the family, who has connections to organized crime. He asks his brother, in effect, to have her killed. This is an excellent example of how, the higher up we are, the more vulnerable we are, and the more irrational we can become when we are stressed.
From the ancient teachings of the Bible to the lessons from Greek tragedy and the daytime soap operas, it seems that any person from any culture can suffer from a big ego and adopt a judgmental stance toward another person or group. As with so many personal life issues, maintaining a healthy perspective about oneself is an ongoing challenge. And maybe it’s a challenge we need to take up daily. Accepting that we’ll never be perfect, we can still give thanks that, day by day, we have a new chance to get it right.
Perhaps these few words have shed some light on one of humankind’s most persistent problems. A good deal has been written about it. For example, you might enjoy this article from Psychology Today magazine:
Ten reasons to stop judging others:
If some aspect of your happiness has been hurt by the tendency to judge others … If you think you could use some improvement in this area, please call. It would be an honor to explore that with you.
And I’ll gladly give a brief no-cost consultation when you call 219 309 3928.