Judgment is not Condemnation.
Over the past two decades (It’s probably been happening since the 1960’s, but I wasn’t alive then), I’ve noticed a rather intriguing transformation in how our culture evaluates personal choices. This subtle but clever trick, the equivalation of condemnation with judgment has led to a society that prizes silent acquiescence above just about anything. Expressions abound to reinforce this inaccurate understanding of assessing choices and making a determination that, indeed, there is one choice that is actually better than the other.
Examples of these expressions are found in everyday conversation. Last week, I was talking with a co-worker who was breathing heavily after ascending a two-story staircase; we began discussing fitness when another co-worker entered the room holding a jumbo, super-sized, giant gulp Coca-Cola. You know the kind: http://whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/coke-giant-cup.jpg
Anyway, as he swallowed 150 calories of high fructose corn syrup, he winked and said,
“Hey, don’t judge me!”
In that moment, he demonstrated what this post is all about. Judging his choice is not an unacceptable behavior. It’s actually a benefit to judge the consequences of his action and determine if it’s behavior worth emulating or avoiding. If he continues on this road, his health will suffer. Type 2 Diabetes is not ubiquitous in America because everyone is drinking only water and doing aerobics three times a week.
On the other hand, condemning him, treating him rudely or hostilely is not acceptable. What he should have said was “Hey, don’t condemn me!”
The very reason he said it was driven by the fact that he knew his choice, while fun and temporarily stimulating, was not the best choice. And that’s what judgment is about. It’s facing options and choosing the better one. Because there is a better – there are some options that are truly superior, and that’s ok.
Judgment is not Condemnation.
I have a confession to make. I’m an attorney. There, I typed it. I’m one of those guys who, unlike almost any other occupation, works in a field where complete strangers believe it’s necessary to share a joke or story that ridicules my profession, before we’ve said much beyond “Hello, my name is ____.”
The legal practice is very familiar with judgment. I have relatives and friends who make judgments every day, all day long. They are called judges. It’s their job. However, as any lawyer can tell you, and as most people know, there is a difference between the verdict – which is the judging of guilt or innocence and the sentencing phase – the punishment connected with the verdict, or if we were speaking from the King’s English – condemnation.
After being found guilty, a criminal is condemned to serve a sentence. In some crimes, as determined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, there are mandatory punishments. In other crimes, the judge or jury has tremendous leeway to impose a variety of punishments, whether imprisonment or probation, or in a capital crime, life imprisonment or the death penalty.
None of these punishments has anything whatsoever to do with the verdict.
Judgment is not Condemnation.
There are many reasons for this widespread breakdown in our willingness to judge anyone or anything. This post is just to give a starting point for conversation (maybe not with your friends, but at least in your mind).
One reason is captured by the expression: “It’s all relative.” Actually, it’s not all relative. In fact, that may be one of the most inaccurate statements in the history of the English language. Hardly anything in the physical world is relative, at least in the manner by which the term is used in the expression above.
Is your clock relative? No. It keeps time precisely, based on the cycles of our planet within the solar system. You can’t just pick a number out of thin air for your doctor’s appointment. You have a set time, and you show up based on the standard of your clock, which is synchronized to your doctor’s clock, both based on a standard measure, agreed upon by all society.
Is your car’s fuel relative? No. You can’t just put in the aforementioned Coke and hope that it runs. You have to use gasoline – the standard fuel for which your car was designed.
Is the thermometer relative? No. The air temperature is measured, as it has been for centuries, based on a scale created by Mr. Farenheit or Mr. Celsius. That standard measurement helps you determine what kind of clothing to wear. If it was just relative, and the numbers meant whatever you wanted them to, you might find yourself ill-prepared for winter weather or for summer heat waves.
Relativity doesn’t produce reliability. In order for systems and structures to function, in order for people to be productive, an agreed upon set of measurements and indicators must be used. Otherwise, we would never achieve much of anything because everyone would use their own standard to live by and no one would have common ground by which to set appointments, operate equipment, use tools, etc.
The same standards apply when it comes to moral judgments. They are equally necessary for a society to function. George Washington said, “Without a shared morality, society will not long thrive or even endure.” Here’s a great read on Washington’s comments regarding religious liberty, which historically enlightened and informed our social standards.
Maybe the dramatic rise in video games and the enormous popularity of professional sports is just our inner selves crying out for a standard. What do these things have in common? They have a winner and a loser. We can judge – not condemn – who is better.
Please, judge me. I would like real, honest, critical feedback that helps me get better. Condemnation? I don’t really need it, but I’m not afraid of it either. I think if you’re willing to get honest, you wouldn’t mind some judgment now and then, yourself. That is, if you genuinely care about building a future that matters.