Off the Pulpit

Yes, You Do Judge People

How often do I hear people praised for not judging others? I know the point — such people are not harsh, they are not unkind, they do not judge character by reckoning irrelevancies. But there is no merit in not judging; rather there is great merit in judging fairly and kindly.

“We must be courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light.” So wrote Emerson. We all judge: this person is more worth spending time with than that one. This individual is more skilled, more humorous, more insightful, less nasty, less prone to gossip. Saying we do not judge is a small lie intended to help us escape the responsibility for our judgments. One can no more estimate all people as equally meritorious than one can deem all food equally delicious.

Even when we judge the judgmental, we are judging. Each individual leaves the womb with preferences and goes to the grave wrapped in judgments. Instead of denying it, let us try to be generous in judgment, open to difference, and grateful for the chance to understand the endless variety of God’s creatures.