In her blog, “Yes, I’m judging you” Yocheved Davidowitz makes a case for why it is okay to judge others. Beyond the fact that it is human nature, she notes that G-d judges and in doing so, gives us “infinite chances to do better.” If we want to emulate Him, we can too, as long as it is carried out with love. Judging, she says, “means not rushing to make negative assumptions.”
I certainly understand what prompted Ms. Davidowitz to advocate for permission to judge. I, too, see people prefacing social media posts in different moms groups with the words, “Don’t judge me,” before launching into a story about a choice they’ve made or action they’re about to take. And to be honest, these posts rub me the wrong way, because they are asking for others to give them a green light. There are no such things as right or wrong feelings. Feelings just are. But these women are often asking for more than validation of their feelings; they want permission to act on those feelings of anger or hurt.
What bothers me is that if you want permission to mistreat your in-law because she mistreated your child, you’ll find it in spades in these groups. Moms rally to whatever the writer has written, telling her it’s okay to feel that way, to think that way, to exclude her relative or to issue an ultimatum. And I judge her both for what she wants to do and the way she goes about it. So yes, let’s judge if we must, but let’s do it with grace and consideration. Especially if we want our words to be heard.
If I dare to speak up, I do it delicately. The way we deliver a message determines how it is internalized. I once had an ex-husband begin sentences with “The problem with you is…” and I had to explain to him that my ears close up when I hear those words. But if he were to begin with “What I’d like to see is…” then he’d have a fighting chance of changing my behavior.
While the writer alludes to the need to not judge what you see at face value, I think this distinction needs to be made more clear; snap judgements are not okay. Beyond the fact that it is a bit presumptuous of us to think it’s okay to pass judgement on others, in this day and age of social media where memes and fake news capture more attention than investigative journalism, we must think twice. That people feel emboldened behind their computers and phones to voice uncompassionate opinions means we need to be extremely careful in deciding if, when, where and how it okay to give voice to judgements we may have formed.
In 2010, Dr. John P. Mayer writing in “Jewish Teachings about Judging Others” in Psychology Today, spoke of Hillel’s perspective (“”Don’t judge your fellow human being until you have reached that person’s place.””) and of Pirke Avot, the Sayings of Our Fathers’ (“…judge everyone favorably”). While I agree with Ms. Davidowitz that it is human nature to judge, I do believe that it is our obligation to refrain from doing so, unless, as Hillel points out, we have enough context to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. And I would add that forming opinions and keeping them to oneself is a lot smarter – and kinder – than vocally publicizing them.
Snap judgements unleash vitriol into this world that we just don’t need…and some set wheels in motion that cannot be turned back. Whether it be a photograph of a mother at the airport with her child on the floor or a hastily arrived at accusation against an Israeli official that goes viral and ultimately drives him to commit suicide, we must refrain from publicly and harshly coming to snap judgements. Shaming is wrong.
Instead of giving ourselves permission to judge with a loosely defined instruction to do it “with love,” let’s follow Dr. Mayer’s advice and make our parameters clear, “The ancients were saying, implicitly, judge others because there is a purpose to doing so, and yet do so cautiously and err toward the positive, because it is easy to make mistakes. Finally, put yourself in the other’s place, if at all possible, when thinking through such judgments.”
He concludes, “Such ancient teachings about judgment are not so different from what we would regard today as good guidelines for judging others.” Then, now and in between… One frequent quote floating around the internet, actually from Scottish author and theologian Ian Maclaren (1850-1907), says it well: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”