Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Vicious Judge

Who is the most vicious judge I know? Me. As Gandhi very candidly pointed out in his campaign for a free India, there were three entities he was trying to change. The easiest was the British, harder yet was the Indian people, and by far the most challenging to overcome was the devil in himself. We all have our devils, our challenges to overcome, and those things we need to change in our lives, and as Gandhi will remind us, the changes in ourselves are the most important. I have always had a tendency to judge, I judge others positively or negatively. Sometimes I would pride myself (judge me positively) on judging others positively. Sometimes I would pride myself the I was in some way not as bad as that person (judge me positively and them negatively). To judge is a human trait that we all share in some form. I want to share some thoughts on that judging attitude.

Normally, I think I know myself pretty well, sometimes I think I don't, but for the most part, I figure I know more or less who I am. I judge certain things about me to be good and certain things to be bad. Those are judgments, they are not necessarily truths, some of them are and some of them aren't, and I may never know which are which. I judge myself based on what I THINK other people think about me. And I try to improve those places that I think other people judge negatively. This is self-improvement, and a good thing (so I judge). Then there are the the things in my life that I THINK God judges as negative in me, those things are a lot harder to know, because God is more complex than people are. But I search for those and try to make changes there too. In that way, for myself, for changing myself, the judgment of others can be a positive tool. It can also hurt and destroy, for judgment is rarely neutral. But as Gandhi pointed out, changing me is much harder than trying to change other people. Changing me requires changes that go beyond the concrete and the visible to the thoughts and reasons behind the visible. Changing me is something that cannot be done alone, but must be started at home in my own thoughts and actions. Judging me can be both positive and negative, helpful and destructive, it is a force that is always pulling one way or the other.

Judging me is one thing. I have the ability to change ME, I have the ability (with some divine assistance) to know ME. But I rarely if ever have the chance to know someone else at a level so deep as to really know, or ever change someone. For me to judge someone, positively or negatively, with any accuracy, is outside my ability. Only God has that ability, because there aren't any other humans with an all encompassing knowledge of everyone they judge. If I am to accurately judge people, I would have to sit down for days and learn every detail about their life, their family history, the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, and only then, could I make a more-or-less accurate judgment. And that is obviously physically impossible for each of us to meet with every other person and learn their life history (it's hard enough to do with a small group of friends). When I judge someone, without knowing about the person, it is like judging who is at fault in a car crash based on the colours of the cars. He is at fault because the car is blue, and blue cars are all the same, they have bad drivers. I should not be judging others if I don't have all the facts, and since I don't have all the facts, why am I judge? Why do I play god? Deciding who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong. I can help people to grow, to improve, but not by judging them. The line that is all too often dismissed in Christianity is telling here. "Why do [I] search for the speck in [my] neighbour's eye while there is a log lodged in [my] own eye?" How can I ever judge someone else properly if I can't even see properly because of my own logs?

This brings me to the dilemma. The vicious judge. Me. Why do I play god time and time again? "Why are all Bangladeshis this way?" When the reality is they are not, and I know it. "Why does that person have no respect?" When what I really mean is, "why did that person do that?" I have gone through very judgmental phases here in Bangladesh, and to be honest, it sometimes feels good. It falsely explains away frustrations and my own failings by projecting them on someone else. I stop asking the question, "why did that make me angry?" And start asking the question, "why is that person so this, or so that, so rude, or so inconsiderate?" These questions are judgmental, and negatively so, they do not lead me to a love or compassionate stance in regards to that person, they place that person somehow below me, when in reality they are not. I have been rude and inconsiderate many times in my life, why do I not judge myself so harshly in these instances? I often feel that the actions of others are an affront against me, but what they really are is one action, one of the thousands of actions that person will make that day. To judge someone based on one of their thousands of actions is like basing the grade of an essay on the single misspelled word rather than on the content of the essay. To judge based on one action and ignore the content, the humanity of the person, to judge in this way is false, accusatory and not helpful to anyone. Here, I often make judgments about why people do what they do. "They did that just so that they could speak to a foreigner." It may be true, it may be false, who knows, and who cares. To judge others serves to compartmentalize them, to stereotype them, those Bangladeshis, those Canadians, those Christians, those Muslims, those Rich, those Poor, those Conservatives, those Liberals, those Addicts, those Men, those Women. Judging prevents me from knowing the real person, and prevents me from loving that person fully for who they are.

As I try to change from judgment to support, to love, and to openness, I face many obstacles, and the biggest one is myself. Even if, with some divine intervention, I manage to take the logs out of my eye, I will still have to take care to heal the holes, to prevent big black spaces from continuing to cloud my judgment, and from the risk of allowing those logs to return. And in all honesty, as admirable a goal as that may be, it is mostly dreaming. I will not manage to remove my own logs, and I will have to struggle with them for the rest of my life. But until those logs are dealt with (probably never), I should not be judging others. And if I think those logs are dealt with, I have probably put one back. I am a vicious judge, not fit to be holding the gavel. Yet I grip it with impunity and I fight to maintain my ability to judge harshly and unfairly. I am the vicious judge.

My prayer is that I can start to turn from this judgment to an all encompassing love and compassion.


*Much of my thinking on the subject has been inspired by the book Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God by Gregory Boyd.

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