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If you’re like me, you may have been harshly and wrongly judged at some point in your life, and you may have harshly and wrongly judged someone else. Whether a seemingly benign mistake or indication of deep hypocrisy, this judgment may have distanced you from another person or a group of people.
To nurture a thriving community, it’s helpful to pursue understanding rather than judgment.
Consider the potential differences between judgment and assessment
In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells his followers, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In Matthew 10:16, he advises us to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” These statements make me realize that I need to protect myself by exercising my judgment to identify potentially treacherous situations. At the same time, I must refrain from judging others for what I perceive as their shortcomings.
I am not a theologian or ancient-language scholar but it seems that there could be two distinct meanings of judging:
- to condemn
- to assess a situation
When I render judgment, I most likely believe that I am merely assessing a situation. But from the perspective of the person who is being judged for their actions and words (or lack of actions and words), I may be condemning.
Recognize and adjust for biases
Thinking about quick assessments reminds me of (what I perceive to be) the generally-accepted takeaway from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: we often need to make snap judgments, which are often surprisingly accurate.
Problems arise when I allow my snap judgments to influence me to the extent that I make poor decisions based on information gathered at a glance; refuse to consider new information; and use information to disparage, disregard, or dehumanize someone else.
It’s true that we often develop and unconsciously use decision maps based on experience and training to streamline decision-making processes. But these maps can be flawed. In fact, they can be so wrong that when we receive new information, including data that contradicts the initial conclusion, instead of changing our minds about a situation, we contort our interpretations of new information to align with our original judgment.
Admit I’m not all-knowing and start expanding my mind (and heart)
Though I realize that I need to assess to make a prompt decision and possibly protect myself, wayward judgment can distance me from other people. I don’t want to push people away intentionally or unintentionally. So, I considered specific actions that could improve judgment and transform relationships:
Talk with more people, more deeply
The more conversations I have with people of different backgrounds, whether educational, geographical, social, economic, or ethnic, the deeper understanding I gain about a variety of subjects. In addition, when I’m eager and able to listen, I’m more likely to discover that acquaintances and even people I thought I knew well have untold fascinating careers, personal stories, family histories, research projects, and more.
As a simple example, during a lunch gathering after a recent weekday bike ride, one of the cyclists asked the others what circumstances allowed them to get out during the normal workweek. You may have thought everyone was unemployed or retired. However, the responses revealed interesting professions: a former IT specialist turned bartender/instructor; an executive assistant to a pastor with days off during the week; a freelance writer; a flight nurse; a physician; and an artist.
Further, I can engage friends and acquaintances to help me challenge common misconceptions. I might pose questions about conventional wisdom in another person’s field of expertise and gain insights that lead to deeper understanding of the world.
Learn from a variety of sources
To get better at assessments, I can expand my base of knowledge. This process may involve reading books; broadening my consumption of media (whether news, commentary, or entertainment); or taking part in new experiences.
The more I know and the more I experience, the more I realize how possibilities exist beyond my imagination.
Gather more information
In situations that I may have deemed potentially hazardous, I can come to terms with the possibility that I might be wrong. Even with the best intentions, I may inaccurately assess a situation.
Perhaps I received incomplete information, misjudged motivations, or speculated wrongly about behaviors. I can ask clarifying questions — with an open mind and nonjudgmental stance. Further, I can allow myself to reverse my initial impression as needed.
The challenge is twofold. Right now, I can learn to recognize my biases and determine when I’m allowing them to influence my interactions negatively. Over the long term, I can educate myself to gain deeper understanding of people in ways that I can’t imagine today. Confronting these challenges allows me to appreciate people more and transform relationships.