On judgment

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When I was in second grade, one of my classmates told me I was going to Hell. I remember the moment vividly. We were on the playground during recess on an unusually hot day in the fall. She was wearing a long, full skirt and tennis shoes that had the Incredible Hulk on them. We were perched on the monkey bars, and she said it like a casual statement of fact.

Stunned by her proclamation, all I could think to say was “Why?”

“Because you’re wearing shorts,” she said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.

After school that day, I told my mom what the girl said during recess. And she assured me that I was not, in fact, going to Hell for wearing shorts. She said some people have religious beliefs that are different than ours, and her church happened to believe that all girls and women should always wear dresses, never cut their hair and never wear make-up. Then Mom told me that the only person who truly knows where we’re going after we die is God.

judge gavelThat decades-old scene on the playground still comes to mind sometimes when I think of the word “judgment.” I checked the definitions of the word, and it’s often described as “opinion expressed as fact.”

Sometimes, particularly in social media circles, people are quick to accuse others of being “judgmental” if they express an opinion that’s different from their own. And no one wants to be seen as judgmental. After all, even the Bible says “Judge not, lest you be judged,” right?

But judgment isn’t always bad. Judgment is also defined as “the ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight.” And that’s a good, useful thing. Plenty of people in the Bible did that, too. And based on most news headlines, society could probably use a whole lot more sound judgment.

While it may be wrong to announce someone’s eternal damnation based on the way they’re dressed, it’s also wrong to surrender to an “anything goes” life philosophy to avoid the risk of looking judgmental.

Is it “judgmental” to know the difference between wrong and right and stand by those convictions? Why should we demonize the concept of judgment based on one narrow definition of it? Our entire society is based, in part, on judgment calls – from the laws that govern us to the leaders we elect. We’re constantly making judgments of one kind or another because they’re a necessary part of living.

As my three kids get older, I’m realizing how important it will be for them to have the ability and the bravery to make good judgment calls. They’ll be faced with so many big ones, particularly when they grow into teenagers and young adults. I hope we’re giving them what they’ll need to make good decisions.

Financial expert Dave Ramsey once said people sometimes mistakenly see money as “evil.” He went on to say that money is neutral – it’s like a brick – and it only takes on meaning in how it is used. I think judgment is the same way. It can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. It’s all up to the person exercising it.

Does that make sense? Or am I off base? I’ll leave it to you to “be the judge.”

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