Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Judging others...is it really as necessary as we think?

      It's true, we are surrounded by judgments.  Every day I see and hear more judgments about others. These are not opinions about differences of ideology, thought or even practice.  These are judgments on people themselves, nastiness disguised as "opinion" (and sometimes science) but meant to attack, hurt, and place "the other" into a category that is different from oneself, a category which we then wholeheartedly dismiss or condemn as unworthy of our time, attention or care.  Sometimes we dismiss a whole group of people as evil or bad, a judgment on a group that I just have never found to be accurate when applied to actual individual people. Despite what our gospels tell us about not judging others, even people who use the name "Christian" seem to judge others more and more. (And as they do this, not unexpectedly, "Christianity" is also judged more and more...hm.  Funny how that works.)  They think less about the very great difference between disagreeing with someone's thought and attacking another human being, even to the point of advocating things that would damage, kill or destroy other people. I saw it again today on two different friends' posts.  I don't need to go into the details, but the short version was that in one, most of us were called 'stupid'.  Rather than just saying, "I don't like it when you do x" or "I disagree with y", we were all called stupid.  The other categorized an entire group of people as evil, again not recognizing that there are many, many differences between people and to group a whole people as evil is not only failing to "not judge" but is also just plain inaccurate.  These judgments also stir up more anger, hostility, polarization, fear and hatred than anything else could do.  In other words, they contribute nothing positive, nothing good, nothing of value to the world.  Hatred leads to more hatred.  Judgment leads to more judgment. Killing leads to more killing.  Fear leads to anger, which leads to hatred, which leads to suffering (Yoda again).  And yet here we are.
       Both of these friends who posted these outrageously hurtful things are not usually unkind. The anonymity of the internet allows us to do that, to express fear and rage in indirect but more deeply hurtful and personally attacking (as well as inaccurate) ways than just talking directly to someone about specific things we disagree with.  But it's not just through the internet. When people get together they often are judging others as well.  "So and so is such a blank and such". As things become more tense, this inclination to attack persons rather than ideas or practices increases.
       I'll admit that until about two years ago I thought that this judging of others was what all people did, to one degree or another; that we just ARE judgmental as part of our nature. I thought that we all thought up and named for ourselves things that we didn't like about other people that we knew. I thought that when people were with friends, this was to be an expected part of what they did: talked about, judged, condemned other people, often condescendingly, always judgmentally.  I thought this - until I met David.
      David is the least "catty" person that I know.  He was divorced thirteen years ago.  And while he can tell me what happened in his marriage, he has never once bad-mouthed his ex-wife.  He talks about actions, but he names them for what they were, without judgment or condemnation but with compassion.  He also challenges me.  When I get into a "catty" place, he usually just gets very quiet and gives me "that look".  "That look" from David is simply a compassionate but concerned look that lets me know I'm acting out in non-helpful ways.  Occasionally when he hears the kids talk badly about others, he will challenge them to try to be more respectful.
      His behavior, his choice to look for and focus on and see the good in others challenges me to do the same.  And I've found it amazingly freeing.  When I can just be with someone and appreciate who they are, what they are, without feeling the need to find their "flaws" and their areas that I don't like, I tend to be more positive and appreciative about everything.  It changes my whole outlook. It also makes me kinder and more grateful for everyone I encounter.  I am looking for the good, not the bad.  I can delight in the differences between people, without needing to judge them or rank them or decide one way of being is better than another.
      The truth is, whenever I hear other people saying bad things about others, I always wonder what they say about me.  I know that people who would badmouth others to me are no doubt badmouthing me to others.  I have become increasingly uneasy with that. (In a similar vein, when people break confidences to me I become less willing to trust that they will respect the confidences I share with them, too.  If I am aware of someone treating others one way, I do not expect them to treat me differently.) But once I identified David as a person who just doesn't do that, I found that there were others, too, who focused more on the good, who choose not to judge people even as they are willing to engage ideas.  And those are the people I most want to be around.  They are people who truly look for and see the good in others.  They walk and live with compassion, grace, empathy and kindness.  And being around them encourages me to do the same.
      And in terms of judging, condemning, hating large groups of people who just believe differently than we do?  We need to be very careful about this.  Just from a faith perspective, we are told, again, not only to avoid judging, but also to love our enemies. There is no room in that for this kind of fear or hatred. No room at all. Once you love someone, they are your enemy no longer.  So even the label enemy becomes a problem.  We also need to be careful about being silent in the face of such anger, hatred and condemnation.  Once again I also find myself thinking about the Martin Niemoller's poem - 
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
      As I said above, it is amazingly freeing to find I don't need to judge others, just appreciate what is beautiful and good about them.  Thank you, again, David, for giving me the gift of modeling this kind of compassion, care and respect for others.  In this time of such fear, anger, hatred and polarization you model for me peace.  I can rest in that.  Thank you.