I am in the throes of last-minute assignment frenzy, but am taking a break between papers to throw down a few ideas around this topic, prompted by my friend Richie, who asked “…you say a few times that you don’t judge people. What does this look like? Are you saying that you don’t recognise that what someone has done is wrong?”
Allow me to begin answering it by giving you a little personal history. There was definitely a time in my life when I was highly judgemental. It started with being raised in a very critical environment, both of me and of seemingly everyone else around us. I was exhausted by all that bitterness and began to reject it. But, I continued to be very critical of myself. Constantly judging myself meant that I was in a non-stop game of comparison: how do I compare to him/her in a, b or c. I have moderate talents so sometimes I’d come off well; other times, catastrophically badly. As a result of all this comparison, I was judging not only myself but everyone around me, non-stop. I seemed to be stuck in the cycle from which I had first emerged, and rejected, or so I thought! Compared with those who came off badly, I looked pretty good in my own head. It was a deeply unhappy place. This led to the much-coveted personality trait of self-righteousness. Oh, how we all love a self-righteous prig!
Anyway as I wandered into faith I began to try to repeatedly repent of all this stuff, which literally understood, means to turn away from it. What I was failing to do (or even consider) was turn away from the self-judgement. It was only when I began to give myself permission to accept myself that I began to understand how I could accept others. Accepting yourself doesn’t mean you like everything about your attitudes or behaviours, but it does give you permission to rest in your own company without judgement, in the very same way you would with a trusted friend. This in turn allows you to stop competing with those around you. This is tied up with the idea of grace – but that’s a post for another day. :)
Then, with age, comes a lot of realisations. The realisation of my privilege has been a biggie. That was what I was talking about in that previous post about choices versus chances. How do I know what I would have become, given different circumstances? I can’t know.
Fundamentally I approach myself and my fellow human beings with two Christian truths in tension (you could call this my “operative theology”):
- We are all imperfect, cracked and broken to some degree. As a result we act in violence or confusion and make mistakes and wrong choices.
- We are all created by a God who looked on his whole creation, including us, and said, “It is very good!” As a result there is something at the core of each of us that is beautiful; something that has the potential to grow.
Anyone who engages with this reality embarks on a wrestling match of epic proportions. Pretty much my whole purpose in this life is to allow that something beautiful in me to continue to grow and grow. I will insist on feeding the violent wolf, though. Or – as someone put it to me recently – I will insist on watering the weeds!
If the above is what I believe about everyone, and if I am in a space where I am accepting of myself, then I do not need to judge anyone else. I can disagree with their actions, yes – I can observe while they feed the wolf. But what is the role of a judge? It’s the one who gets to condemn or set free. In short: it’s the person designated to form conclusions. I will never be the one to form conclusions about me or you or anyone. Why? Because none of us is finished yet. Further than that still – the judge needs to know all the facts of the case. I cannot, and never will, know all the “facts” that form another person. One small fact can be all it takes to have a verdict or case overturned. So I need to let go of the position of judge: like most other jobs, I am simply not qualified for the role.
That’s not to say I don’t sit in the judge’s seat from time to time and bang the gavel about – just ask the husband unit about that. :)