If there’s one thing that is most detrimental to humanity, it may just be judgment. Most of us will acknowledge that we’re still trying to overcome the judgments we received from others. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to practice minimizing our judgments on others?
What is the one thing that has the greatest, most destructive influence on our world? Arguably, it is the judgment that we put out on other people. When we judge another person, and when we are judged, that very often cuts a person down from the size that they truly are to a far, far smaller size. And very often the person being judged believes that judgment for most, if not the rest, of their life. And getting rid of that judgment is extremely difficult. Now, while our judgment on another person is not what reduces them, it’s their belief in our judgment, the reality still remains that most people who are judged actually accept, they buy into that judgment. And so when we’re putting out judgment, we are, at least indirectly and very close to directly, affecting the world and affecting people in a very negative way.
When he defines a child, our children, by saying, you are this and you are that and we call them names, very often, as we know ourselves, we carry that with us for the rest of our lives. And that cuts out so many possibilities or abilities that we have within us because someone once told us something. Now, of course, as you know from previous podcasts, what we as individuals need to do with our own lives is go through a process of growing beyond those judgments and stop limiting ourselves by those judgments. But today I’m talking about the judgments we put out on other people.
And the reality is that most people do not go through the process or at least a significant process of getting out of most of their judgments, the judgments that were put on them. And this is the reason why we have a teaching that we are supposed to judge every person favorably, a teaching from Ethics of Our Fathers to judge every person favorably. And my experience in hearing people discuss this teaching is that we often interpret this teaching as finding excuses for why someone did something or coming up with some farfetched reason why the person may have done this in a way to sort of justify our minds so that we can accommodate this teaching of judging another person favorably.
And that’s why I’m sharing this with you today because I want to go into understanding what judgment actually is and what the opposite of judgment is, how we judge people favorably.
In understanding judgment, we need to realize that when we judge someone, what we are doing is we are personalizing the action the person has done with the person. That means that we define who the person is by what they have done.
So when someone does something in a moment of weakness, or in a moment of anger, or simply because they decided in this moment to do something which was a bad decision, do we define the person now by what they have done or do we understand that there is a deeper person here who, on some level at some point, did something which they should not have done?
Judgment is when we personalize what they’ve done, we make it the definition of who the person is. The opposite of judgment is simply understanding. The opposite of judgment is accepting. That means that we accept that this is what this person did. We’re not assessing them or judging them, we just know here is a person, here is what they did. And we can ‑‑ when we understand someone, as we always seek to be understood, when we understand someone, we understand that there are circumstances involved, there is an emotional state that’s involved, there are a lot of conditions around this person, many of which we probably are not aware of at the moment, that the person did this. And that is the way we are supposed to look at what another person does.
Now, this does not mean that we’re justifying what they did. When someone does something wrong, if someone has the opportunity to steal $1 million and they do it, that is absolutely wrong. That is not to be justified. But we can still understand why the person did that, why a person would do that when they’re tempted with $1 million that they can easily get. I would hope that you and I would never do that, but we can still take the time to understand and to accept that this is what the person did. The person still needs to be brought to justice, justice always needs to be upheld, that’s not even a question, but between us and that other person, we can even acknowledge to them, I understand how tempting this was and I understand why you did it. And I sure hope you understand why you need to be brought to justice. Then the two together work very well, they work most well. Because when a person is understood, then they will cooperate in a much different fashion than what they are judged. And judging another person favorably means understanding the context of the action the person did and knowing that there is a better person that lies beneath this action.
Do you know if they were coerced into doing what they did? Which does not justify it, but it helps us understand it. Maybe what you know about the story is not what it seems. Maybe there’s a completely different backstory. There’s far more information. And we all know stories where we’ve learned the full story and found out that, in fact, the context was very different than we understood. And it helps us really understand why the person would have done that even if it was wrong. So, ultimately, what we would love to do, what we should aspire for, is not to judge people at all, to practice not judging people. We need to understand what the person did, we need to accept the person despite what they did, to separate what people do from who they are.
A person shows up late. Why did they show up late? There’s some story behind it. They may be a perpetually late person. Does that justify it? Absolutely not. But it gives us a context.
Recently, there was a person who was imprisoned for a white‑collar crime. And his particular story grabbed a lot of attention and many people were familiar with this story. He received a very harsh sentence. And I don’t want to go into the particulars of the story, because that’s irrelevant. He ended up being pardoned from the President and he was released from prison. There were two responses in the community to his release from prison; one response in the community was complete joy that this person was released from prison, another response was not joy at all. This person did something wrong and he deserves to be punished.
Now, let’s just, for argument sake, not even debate whether what the person did was wrong or not, which itself, in this case, is debatable. But let’s just assume the person was wrong, and let’s say the person was punished and thrown into prison. And let’s just even assume, even though this is clear, that he was given a much harsher sentence than one gets for such a crime, but let’s just assume he got the sentence he deserves and he’s released from prison early. We can respond in one of two ways. We can respond in judgment, exactly what this teaching is telling us, and saying, oh, this person deserves to be punished. Or, we can respond in compassion, which is to say, look, I know this person did something wrong but I’m so happy that he was released from prison early. Why the person did it? I’m sure there’s some story behind it, which doesn’t justify it, but I understand the story behind it. And at the same time, I’m so happy the person has been released from prison. The side of the community that was very judging and saying we shouldn’t celebrate the release of this person from prison, who were saying, well, what message does this show our kids, that you can do things which are illegal? And here is my exact point. What message are these people showing to our kids, that we should always stand in judgment of other people without standing in compassion or should we stand in compassion for other people and understand that people are flawed and not perfect? And while we do not justify what they’re doing, we celebrate the fact that they’ve been released.
And so this story, although there’s so much more to this particular story, I’m just using this as a frame of reference to say that we need to be people of compassion, not people of judgment.
I’m going to conclude with a more spiritual and deeper perspective of what this teaching teaches us and that is that every challenge a person has in this world is divinely ordained, is designed by God for this person. Often we feel that the challenges we have overwhelm us, they’re too great for us. But, actually, if God gives us a challenge, we have the ability to deal with that challenge and work through that challenge. However, you and I know that many times we don’t, we fail. When we see someone who has a challenge and fails, we need to realize that this person has such a potential, has such a capability that God presented them with this big challenge. So judging them favorably is realizing how great this person must be if they were given this challenge. And that is a deep and profound spiritual way to see another person. And so I conclude by saying, let us practice standing far less in judgment and far more in understanding and acceptance, we will reduce one of the most significant things that limits our world from moving forward and limits people from moving forward, and let us realize that when a person is challenged, it is revealing a very deep powerful aspect of their capability.