Beware the Judgment Trap
Beware the Judgment Trap
It’s no big secret. There are no shortages of criticisms, critics, or judges. Turn on the radio, pick-up a magazine, watch television, walk around the office or just sit in any food court and you’ll find plenty of people ready to tell us what is wrong with the world. You may hear, or perhaps say to yourself, things like they should eat healthier, control their children, dress appropriately, be more productive at work and of course should do more at home. We are far from perfect and one of most harmful things we do is judge ourselves and others.
Judgment is defined as a “decision or opinion about someone or something that you form after thinking carefully” (Cambridge Dictionary). Judgment helps make sense of the world around us and is important to our survival. When we encounter a potential harmful or dangerous situation, judgment motivates the “fight or flight” response. This response, coined by psychologist Walter Cannon, describes the naturally occurring release of hormones into the body to prepare us to deal with a threat or flee from it.
Whether we like it or not, judgment is an inescapable fact of life. We all do it frequently and, many times, aren’t even aware we are doing it. Psychologists describe judgment as a defense mechanism operating at an unconscious level. Judgment can help us feel better or avoid unpleasant feelings (i.e., anxiety). When our judgment affirms our behavior or belief, we feel good about ourselves, but when it doesn’t it causes discomfort. Discomfort sometimes causes us to project blame onto others, ignoring our own shortcomings. Jesus described it by saying:
“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? (Matthew 7:3, NIV).”
Judgment, especially of others, is perhaps the most powerful destructive force known to man because it is often rooted in our ego. Judging others or bringing out their flaws, real or perceived, is often referred to as “pointing the finger.” However, we are reminded that:
“When you point your finger at someone, anyone, it is often a moment of judgment. We point our fingers when we want to scold someone, point out what they have done wrong. But each time we point, we simultaneously point three fingers back at ourselves.” (C. Pike, 1996)
This does not mean that we shouldn’t judge, rather we use the right criteria for judging. The Bible warns us of the appropriate and inappropriate uses of judgment. Judging motives, especially using appearances or superficial measures, is inappropriate and at best futile. We seldom see what truly motivates someone to do something; instead we project the reasons based on our perception or belief. But we know that things are not always as they seem; however, true motives are always seen by God:
“... For the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLV).
Rather than judging people inappropriately (i.e. motives), we are instructed to use discernment to “judge what is right and just” (John 7:24, VOICE). In Lead Like Jesus Revisited (Blanchard, Hodges and Hendry, 2016) we are told:
- “judgment is pointing out a fault with a view to condemnation. On the other hand, discernment is pointing out a fault with a view to correction and restoration.”
Like the scales of justice, judgment needs to be balanced to protect us from judging people instead of judging acts. In using discernment, we focus not on motives, but acts which are visible. As Nicholas Sparks, author, said:
“You're going to come across people in your life who will say all the right words at all the right times. But in the end, it's always their actions you should judge them by. It's actions, not words, that matter.”
The primary purpose of judgment isn’t to make us superior, or better than; nor is it to replace or assist God. Judgment serves to lead us to repentance, a posture of humility where we can admit our flaws and seek forgiveness. In leading like Jesus, we are challenged to model the behaviors that set the example. The Apostle Paul admonishes:
“So, don’t criticize each other anymore. Try instead to live in such a way that you will never make your brother stumble by letting him see you doing something he thinks is wrong” (Romans 14: 3, TLB).”
Whether leading at work, church or home; the greatest challenge we face isn’t judging the behaviors of others but modelling Jesus-like behavior. So, when you look at a situation, try to determine which lens you’re using. Are you judging the person or their motives, or are you discerning their actions? Is the judgment, based in love, and intended to help lead to repentance?
Remember, that our actions speak louder than our words, and will ultimately figure in to how we are judged. Our task isn’t to judge people or their motives:
“It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” (Billy Graham, 1996).
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