“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”(Carl Gustav Jung)
Have you ever said, “I feel judged” or have you accused someone of “being judgmental?” We all experience very strong emotions as both the recipient and the manufacturerof “judgments.” The receiver of “judgment” feels minimized and marginalized which produces very strong defensive behaviors. Yet the producer of “judgments”feels justified and larger than life…for the moment. But is it really wrong to judge particularly when we do it all the time? Can we make judgments without being judgmental? We know the Bible speaks about making judgments, but what does it really mean and how does it apply? In this post, we will review the psychology of making judgments and the wisdom of the ages on this very and uncomfortable topic.
There is a world of a difference between Making Judgments and Judge-Mentalism.
Making Judgments is a normal mental process of assessing an item or situation to gather information for the sake of making decisions. Anytime you are driving a car and assessing the distance from one car to the next you are exercising judgment. As a police officer (I am now retired), I gathered information by questioning suspects or interviewing witnesses to better understand the situation. In sports, whenever an umpire makes a call on a play it is called a judgment call. All these examples are decisions that should be made on the basis of knowledge, evidence, facts, research, and life experience. A person who regularly achieves positive results of their actions is said to possess good judgment while someone whose actions yields negative results could be said to exercise poor judgment. To acknowledge someone who exercises good or poor judgment would be to state an opinion based on the evidence. It would not be considered being judgmental.
Judge-Mentalism is any uninformed opinion that leads to a simple conclusion without investigation, understanding, or communication. There are three common ensnaring types of judge-mentalism.
1. Playing Holy Spirit: Any time we presume or “discern” what is in someone’s heart we fall into this dangerous practice since we assume we have insight into a person’s innermost feelings. Have you ever heard yourself saying, “He did that because he does not care about anyone but himself?” This statement is always made when there are clouded or mixed feelings for a person. This trap ensnares us to condemn people into two categories, good motives or badmotives, which are based upon how we feel about a person in the moment. Please note, just because we choose the “good” kind of assumptions about a person does not make this trap any less ensnaring or toxic. These actions can contaminate friendships and family relationships.
2. Label-Maker: This trap assumes a god role in which we pigeon-hole a person’s behavior or characteristics in terms such as narcissist, co-dependent, alcoholic, etc, thus, defining them or explaining a person’s motive. Ironically, this act dehumanizes and minimizes the Label-maker’s self-worth and dignity as well as the person they’relabeling.
3. Counterfeit Judge: Anytime we weigh an offense and determine a person’s level of guilt without absolute certainty, we fall head first into this trap. These kinds of accusations result in complete condemnation of a person without knowledge. Every time we fall into this trap we lose insight, knowledge, and minimize our own identity. To the same measure that we love ourselves, wecan love others. If we play counterfeit judge,we eat away at our own capacity to love ourselves.
Where do these Judgmental tendencies come from? Psychologists agree that it all starts with the development of a person’s consistent value system. However, where psychologists disagree is how these values are formed. For example, the social learning theory teaches that we develop morality from what we learn from our external world; psychoanalysts believe morality develops through internal conflict between instinctual drives; cognitive theories view morality as outgrowth from reasoning. Personality theories integrate allfactors that contribute to human development. The famous psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, believes that we all experience six stages of moral development and most moral development come from social interactions with other people. The major differences between these approaches rest on two questions: 1) where do humans begin their moral journey and 2)where do they end up? How is “moral maturity” defined? I will discuss these questions further in a later blog.
The Scriptures declare that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Christianity teaches us to see ourselves as participants in sin rather than victims of sin. That is, sin is part of our nature, and recognizing this condition is necessary to understand that we are all repeat offenders of Judge-Mentalism.
Why is this trap so enticing? “Judge-Mentalism” is a mechanism that covers our fears, sadness, or sense of powerlessness or some mixture of these ingredients. This recipe neutralizes our spiritual and mental growth. Judge-Mentalism pushes us towards absolutes without knowledge. This choice accepts only one way of being, our own. This wound separates us from others by closing doors instead of opening them.
What is the solution? If being judgmental closes doors, then openness unlocks the doors. Openness is a characteristic of Jesus Christ.
The Message Bible says, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with eachother, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—acrucifixion.” (Phil 2:1-8, Message).
Through our spiritual disciplines, like prayer, devotionals, and meditation, we should work at managing our personal fears and choose to make room for others—their stories, experiences, culture, and how they see their world are vital to make informed healthy judgments. This process invites Jesus into our woundedness and allows real change to begin. By changing the way we see others, we trump our fears and fulfill the law of love. This moves counterculture and deals directly with our sadness, fear, defense mechanisms, anger, blame, and suspicion.
I hope this blog sheds light on your life journey as it did mine. To learn, we need an open mind, to learn spiritual truth, we need both an open mind and an open heart. Please feel free to dialogue with me on this topic.