To judge or not to judge
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)
There’s a lot of talk and opinions being expressed these days about burning issues in our society. We see perceived villains parading on our TV screens and defending themselves, basically asking for understanding as they plead their cases. And many of us have judged them one way or another.
Times like these, what often comes to mind or sometimes knocks on our conscience is this question of whether we are being too “judgmental.” To the outraged, judgment is a tool, something that marks or delineates their position as different, or opposed to or against their targets. To those targeted, being subject to judgment is not something they like very much.
Many people who feel strongly for or against Merci and Willy have a lot to say about being judgmental. Some say it is necessary to judge, while others say it is “unchristian” to do so. And both camps can quote biblical passages to strengthen their positions. Then there is the pejorative meaning of “judgmental” where everything is looked at strictly from within a moral perspective and anything that doesn’t fit is subjected to critical, righteous condemnation.
To be sure, we all judge, and not judge and are judgmental at different times under different circumstances. That’s just how people are.
I love a good debate. I used to watch Crossfire on CNN where Left and Right political views slugged it out to win the viewers’ hearts and minds to their side. I also like the BBC-sponsored debates on various current topics like the position of the Church on various matters, and democracy in the Arab world. I like the idea that a topic is discussed and dissected to enlighten and inform. And I do not see discussion as a waste of time if it crystallizes our thinking and our values.
Take the Willie case. While a great number of people are outraged by his behavior, there are a number who also think he did nothing wrong. Clearly, there is a split in values here. I’ve often wondered where else, aside from the rich/poor dichotomy, the tectonic divide can be found in our society. Apparently, Willie’s type of entertainment is one. One might say this is a big cultural divide at best, and a battleground for a culture war at worst.
There is also the issue of Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which is a riveting topic for many. Then there is the RH bill.
We also argue and make judgments about raising kids, religion, our system of government, money, the behavior of public persons, global warming, fossil fuels, among other hot topics.
I have always been tempted to ask a judge — as a joke—if it ever occurred to him that he was judgmental, knowing the implications the word. But seriously, every time we form an opinion, we judge. It’s a simple as that. We hold a set of values or standards, which we use to judge situations and people.
There is a school of thought that says judging people or their actions is, well, wrong or harsh. Doesn’t the Bible say, “Judge not so that you are not judged?” There is the incident in the New Testament where Jesus admonished a crowd that was stoning a woman caught in adultery. He said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
When asked about paying taxes, Jesus also said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God those that are God’s.” Very wise words. Compassionate even.
But wasn’t it the same Jesus who harshly judged the vendors around the temple and violently dispersed them, throwing all compassion to the wind? Wasn’t He being judgmental?
Clearly there is virtue in both making and not making judgments. And it is clear that there is no cut and dried distinction here. A question comes to mind: when should we withhold judgment on a person and situation, and when should we passionately exercise judgment?
The answer lies in the situation, and person involved. If the situation involves a psycho in a hostage arena, there is no reason to abstain from or withhold or even delay judgment. Immediate rescue and resolution of the emergency trump any room for compassion for the perpetrator. Some things must be decided resolutely and fast. It’s a judgment call, which will be affected or nuanced by elements of the total picture.
So when should one be like Jesus in the case of the adulterous woman, or like Jesus when he cleared the temple of vendors?
Where it involves convictions that are really important and where circumstances demand that one exercise courage, then passionate judgment is needed.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear,” wrote the late new-ager, Ambrose Redmoon.
It is quite possible that some people who caution against judging are those who do not hold any conviction at all and thus find it easy not to have to choose any position. They withhold judgment because either they have not thought things through or they are too weak or scared to make one.
But judge we must, as we, in turn, will also be judged. And sometimes, the hardest thing is to come to an honest judgment that goes against the grain of public opinion and stick to it — something Pontius Pilate could not do.
I have met people who have lost the appetite for judging moral behavior or taste in others. Many of them are long time yoga and meditation practitioners who have learned to rise above the fray. It’s as if they have taken Arunja’s advice in the Bhagavad Gita to heart: “Be in the battlefield but not as the warrior.” They can appear calm and detached despite the heat and passion of the moment.
Whether one judges or refuses to cast judgment, it is important to subject our motives to personal scrutiny. And that is even more difficult than judging or not judging.
It can be jolting to be confronted with a dishonesty or an ulterior motive that masqueraded as principle, or a laziness or cowardice masquerading as enlightened non-attachment. “ We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions, “ said Ian Olympic gold medalist Percy. We need to be conscious on as many levels as we can be, and then judge, or not judge.
And that too is a judgment call.
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