Thursday, March 17, 2016

Think Before You Judge

3/17/16: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
                                                                                                      -1 John 1:8, NIV

“I’d never do that,” and “Wow, what an idiot!”  These were the types of things I’d say about people once upon a time when I was younger and really judgmental about other people’s lives.  I didn’t think before I spoke, and I never thought I’d do anything that could possibly make me look as dumb as the people I was criticizing.  I was wrong.
I have done plenty of things over the years since that time (and before) that I’m not proud of.  I have broken some of the Ten Commandments, gossiped (though I learned a valuable lesson about doing that when it happened to me), and I’ve judged others for things I had no right to judge them for.  People say, “Don’t judge me unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.”  While I can’t go back in time and explain to my younger self just how important this piece of advice is, I can reach out to people and tell them what I’ve learned.
Nobody is perfect.  It’s such an easy thing to say, and it’s something I hear all the time and often say myself.  Yet, the ironic thing is, even when we know in our hearts that people make mistakes, most of us still find ourselves automatically judging someone when they do.  I don’t think we even mean to do it.  It’s like there is something inside of us that can’t resist pointing out the faults of others.  Maybe it makes us feel like we are somehow superior to everyone else, that our faults can’t possibly be as horrible as the faults of those we wag our tongues about.  Even when we know nobody is perfect, we still can’t resist expressing our disdain for those who draw attention to their imperfections. We might not voice what we are really thinking out loud, but that doesn’t necessarily stop us from forming an opinion about the person, even when that opinion is based off the little information that’s available to us.
I see a commercial on television every once and a while showing a new mother with her baby in the NICU who weighs only a little over 3 pounds.  The mother tells us that her baby was born two months early due to the mother’s smoking habit.  The message is clear.  Don’t smoke when you’re pregnant.  It’s obvious.  I mean, cigarette packs warn women about the birth defects that could happen if they smoke while pregnant. Understandably, we wonder why any woman would take the risk to put her growing baby in such danger. 
The commercial plays on our expectations of what the mother should have done once she knew she was going to have a baby. However, as bad as her decision was to keep smoking, I have to stop and think about how extremely difficult it must have been for her to go on television, a media that begs for judgment from others based off the couple minutes we see on a commercial, and tell people how wrong she was to smoke while pregnant.  It’s obvious she is sorry and regretful for what she did.  She knows firsthand how it negatively affected not only her baby but herself too.  She has to live with the knowledge that she could have prevented what happened to her infant, and the baby could have been born without suffering from the consequences of her actions.  Yet, the mother still chose to come forward and risk being ridiculed and judged for her poor decision. Being a mother myself, I can only imagine how much the lady beat herself up for what she could have done to make things turn out differently. 
It isn’t easy to admit when we’ve made a colossal mistake.  Only someone who has experienced the full repercussions of a bad decision is able to list the numerous lessons learned and why the mistake should have never been committed in the first place.  Just the pain alone of knowing we could have prevented the consequences of our own poor judgment should make us more sensitive to the pain of others when they too admit they’ve messed up.  But, for some reason, many conveniently don’t remember their own faults when they witness someone else suffering from self-inflicted careless actions.  Instead, accusers are willing to jump on the bandwagon with others and judge the poor sap who is already probably feeling lower than dirt.  Perhaps, by taking the proverbial shovel out and throwing more dirt on top of the pile, people secretly feel like they can throw their sins in the hole and bury them right along with the sins of their neighbors.
Why do we feel like we need to put our own opinion in when somebody else makes a mistake?  We know we aren’t perfect.  We know we have our own issues we’d never want shared with the world for fear that, if the world knew, we too would be judged according to its hypocritical standards.  Why don’t we admit none of us should be pointing our fingers at anyone for their faults?  I am reminded of the Biblical account of a woman caught in adultery.  Her accusers bring her to Jesus to ask Him what should be done about her.  Surely, she deserved the standard punishment for her crime; certainly her crime was so reprehensible that she deserved to die for it.  Yet, Jesus calmly stated “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (NIV, John 8:7).  Not one person threw a stone. The older ones walked away first, followed by the rest.  They knew there was no way they could pronounce their own flawed judgment on the woman when they could never stand up to the same scrutiny themselves.
There is another saying; “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” (Say what? Origins of words and Sayings). Only the most self-aware people understand the wisdom of those words. Making mistakes is a part of being human.  We can do our utmost to try to be perfect so that our own judgement is warranted when we see someone screw up.  But, in reality, there is no reason at all we should be talking about how bad someone else is. In the Bible, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).  There are so many lessons in the Bible about what sin does to people, yet we still sin.  Even when we know deep down there will be consequences, we still want to do what makes us happy even when our decision is based off selfish desires.  It’s even possible to sin when we think we are doing the right thing.  If anyone believes they are immune to it, they are only kidding themselves (see Romans 7:19-21).
“Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:7).  These are powerfully convicting words and sobering ones. Nobody escapes the reality that sometimes we hurt others and ourselves.  But, we can treat others as we would like to be treated if we were to stumble.  We can try to empathize with those who have learned their lessons the hard way, and instead of pointing our fingers at them, we can learn from them. At least then we show that we are able to rise above our initial reactions to a person’s faults and instead reach out to them with the same compassion we’d need in our own trials.  Even when we didn’t deserve it, God still saved us (Romans 5:8).  That’s the very point of showing compassion to other human beings, to show them love during the times they either can’t love themselves or when they’ve fallen down into a pit of their own making.  By reaching out a hand to help each other up, we are demonstrating the very thing God gave humanity. His grace.

Works Cited
New International Version. [Colorado Springs]. Biblica, 2011. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Say what? Origins of words and Sayings, Online blog. Original quote by Geoffrey Chaucer’s 'Troilus and Criseyde' (1385).