July 13, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

When informed opinions slide down into nasty judgments

Cynthia DewesScripture says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt 7:1, Lk 6:37). Not to break the seal of the confessional or anything, but I must admit that most of my confessions have included asking forgiveness for being judgmental. Sorry to say, I’m too quick to make judgments about ideas, events and people. At least I’ve learned with time not to act hastily on those judgments, but to wait and establish their worth.

To my chagrin, my judgments aren’t always accurate. Surprise! And, apparently, I’m not the only one.

At a women’s club meeting recently, one of the members was criticizing some old men, including her own husband, who gather almost daily at the local café. They’re all retired, have little to do and are affectionately referred to as the “Liars’ Club.”

Another member, whose husband also belongs to this group, took umbrage and sharply rebuked the first. “You shouldn’t make fun of something you know nothing about!” she cried. “You’re too judgmental, and you don’t even know what they do there. Why, I happen to know they were having a Bible study for a while.”

This lady is one of the quietest, sweetest and most even-tempered people we know so her sudden fury stunned us. The first speaker, who is indeed so judgmental that we are usually just amused by her caustic comments, was also cowed.

Nevertheless, she didn’t apologize, but rather tried to cover her tracks by saying, “Yes, I heard about the Bible study, but I just feel bad that they’re so bored they feel they have to go to the café.” Right.

This mini-drama got me thinking how lucky I am that no one has ever called me on the exact same kind of behavior. Joking can cover anything—from funny observations to mean gossip. It tends to soften words that can become harmful rumor or, worse, harmful action. So in light of that, is making a judgment ever positive or acceptable?

Of course, we need to make certain judgments. We have to judge our dealings with others, our life situations, our performance at work or whatever, just to be responsible Christians. We must evaluate our roles as spouses, parents, friends, parish members or neighbors. But when we do all this, we’re judging only ourselves. It seems to me, that’s the actual point—we can only judge ourselves.

Sometimes I’ve unfavorably judged that obese person ahead of me in line at the grocery store who is buying potato chips and dip with food stamps, and beer with her own money. Ditto when observing the parents of a bratty child who has been disrupting a public restaurant for an hour or the man doing 30 miles per hour in a no-passing lane in a 55-miles per hour speed zone. Should we judge these people or judge how we react to them?

How about the comparisons we make secretly between ourselves and others? Of course, they are based on rather skewed judgments because we all like to be one-up on someone else. No matter what the other person is truly like, we can find ourselves a bit better looking, smarter, richer, higher-ranking or even a member of a more civilized society than the other person. Maybe we should just judge ourselves as pathetic because we feel a need to be better than someone, anyone, else.

The sacrament of reconciliation, aka confession, provides a good opportunity to consider the truth about our judgments. That is the place for them because there it’s just between you and God, no fudging allowed.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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