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5 Steps to Judge People

I totally judge people. I’ve tried really hard most of my life not to judge people. I mean, Jesus said not to do it. I've also seen so much unintentionally damaging effects of criticism and negative judgment. I’ve done it often myself. I know when I offer feedback I'm not setting out to condemn but that’s exactly how it’s experienced by the recipient.  Therefore, I want to share five steps I’ve learned to steer my observations and interpretations away from condemnation and criticism and towards encouragement and support.

1) Acknowledge your judgmental attitude and thoughts: After all these years of trying to suppress my feelings of judgment and condemnation, I now recognize it doesn’t work. Simply repeating “Stop judging” to myself doesn’t help. My judgmental thoughts don’t go away simply because I want them to. So I have learned to own them, acknowledge them, and confess them before God and it helps move beyond just hearing and being paralyzed by these negative and critical voices. In essence, I’m saying to myself “Look, judgmental and critical part of me, I hear you but I don’t have to obey your voice”. 

2) Apply your standard for this person to yourself first: On a plane flight a couple years ago, I sat next to a young woman who, upon finding out I was a pastor, told me about her negative experiences with Christians. She said she didn’t understand why Christians “judged” since the Bible was clear that you’re not supposed to judge (i.e. condemn people for their actions). I told her she was reading the verse out of context. Here’s the passage, taken from the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:1-6 Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

The first verse is often quoted out of context as a blanket admonition not to judge others at all, at any time. That is absolutely not the point. Jesus often used hyperbole to drive a point home. If you keep reading, the premise of this passage is to take care in HOW we judge others. The standard we apply to other people will be applied to us. Therefore, make sure you take care of your side of the street BEFORE you start telling people how to take of theirs. This has been repackaged as common wisdom in so many places, most recently Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life - Rule #6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World. 

“You have no clue what it’s like to drive. Please stop.” Those are the words I spoke to my 14-year old son, who has never been behind the wheel of a car, when he criticized my 16-year old son’s recent driving test score sheet (he passed). I need to remind myself of the very same thing when I judge someone whose situation I’ve never been in. 

3) Trust God has a gift for you from this person:  Consider this: Your judgment of the person might be wrong. Each person has his/her own demons. And yet there are some things about the person you don’t know. Once I acknowledge my negative thoughts, I don’t fight them and I look for something positive instead to pursue. I recognize my limitations in understanding people and trust that God has something meaningful to teach me about Himself through the gift of this person.

And so I say to myself, “Maybe I’m wrong about this person, maybe he/she is not as superficial, passive, needy, or broken as I perceive. Maybe there’s more to this person’s story than I understand.”

4) Strategically encourage: This is crucial. I assume many Christians have explicitly or implicitly condemned another person regarding their behavior. The fear of being shamed is a potent force. Even when judgement isn’t expressed, people who have experienced past condemnation tend to be extremely fearful. In moments where someone expresses a vulnerability, it’s also helpful to wonder aloud how they may have been subjected to judgement like "I imagine you have experienced times where people looked down on you”. Therefore, I  decide to do the opposite and give specific encouragement. 

I say to myself “Hey, let's try to be different here and write a different script. This person demonstrated courage in sharing something hidden with me, how I can affirm that?”

5) Consider you may be right in your judgment and yet also miss something significant about the other person: People often judge me for being blunt, critical, tactless, and cruel. If they assess I have a heart problem based on my unfiltered tongue, they would be 100% accurate. And yet if they don’t know me, they might miss a some facts: First, that I frequently mourn the relational wreckage my reactiveness has caused. Second, my experience of my dad during early childhood was criticism and emotional absence. Third, I have two unfortunate aspects of my parents’ personalities - my dad’s observant and analytical mind that notices everything negative and my mom’s volatile temperament. People who know me also know I’m my own worst critic.

So I say to myself: “There’s far more to this person than his observed behavior and the supposed heart behind it. There’s an intricate story about this person that is way bigger than him and what I see. This story involves generations, circumstances, and survival. I see this person only dimly. God, would you bring clarity on how you see him, how you see me, and most of all, clarity on your love for both of us”. 

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