The Common Good

Who Are We to Judge?

One of my favorite quotes of 2013 comes from Pope Francis. Asked what he would say about a member of the Catholic clergy who is gay, he responded with a question of his own.

“Who am I to judge?” Francis replied.

A good question for all of us, no?

Our world is inundated with judgment. Social media can be a swamp of it. Recently, a television celebrity was judgmental about those who are different from him and got in trouble for it. Many defended his judgmental attitude and words.

Which raises some important questions for all of us: Is it good to be judgmental? Isn’t life about making judgment calls and living by our values? Aren’t we all judgmental in some ways? 

We all make judgments every day, decisions about what we think is best to do in the various circumstances of our lives. We might see someone in need and decide to help. We might recognize one of our shortcomings and decide we’ll change. We might run into an unforeseen challenge and try to figure out the best way to respond.

That’s all well and good. 

Being judgmental is a very different thing.We cross a line and become judgmental when we conclude that our decisions are the right ones and that we’re free to criticize anyone who sees anything differently. We reject them for having a different point of view. We might even attribute bad motives to their decisions, even though we’re clueless about what’s going on in their heads or in their lives. We decide that we’re better than them in some ways.

When we’re judgmental, we’re not only pointing a finger at someone else in scorn, but we’re also using our other hand to pat ourselves on the back. We’re making ourselves feel good at the expense of someone else.

Ultimately, being judgmental is more about the person doing the judging than it is about the one being judged. A judgmental attitude pushes others away instead of opening ourselves to a conversation with them that might prompt us to reconsider and change our point of view. We prefer our certainties.

That’s the thing about a judgmental attitude: It can’t survive outside the darkness of a closed mind.

What’s the opposite of being judgmental? Alcoholics Anonymous is a great example. Everyone acknowledges being in the same boat. There’s no criticism or judgment. People share their stories and learn from each other’s experiences. They draw strength from each other’s love and encouragement. Millions of people have changed their lives and become whole through this approach, gotten renewed hope and fresh starts.

Shouldn’t our religions be more like that? Shouldn’t we be more like that? Shouldn’t we offer encouragement and grace instead of judgment and rejection? Shouldn‘t we be instruments of healing? 

It’s interesting that Jesus chose to spend his time with those who were on the accusing end of the pointed finger. His closest friends and followers were judged and rejected by those who preferred to cast stones. He said they all should drop their stones. Don’t judge, because your judgment always turns back on you. Instead, love one another.

Who are we to judge? It’s a great question to keep asking ourselves in 2014.

Joe Kay  is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

Photo: Rob Hyrons/Shutterstock


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