Judging is essential to a well-lived life. Cathy and I raised our children based on our best judgment. We chose to keep a tighter rein than most New York parents. Years later our children told us our judgment was flawed. We listened carefully and concluded they were right. We apologized. Exercising good judgment is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.
On the other hand, being judgmental is not essential to any kind of life. Being judgmental occurs when inaccurate information ignites fear. It is often based on misunderstanding, innuendo, and prejudice. History would suggest it has always been a part of the human condition.
E. O. Wilson is the sociologist who first suggested the critical social unit for humans is not the nuclear family, but the tribe. Wilson studied ants and found great similarities between these six-legged picnic invaders and we humans. Both need a community to survive. But Wilson noted an unfortunate difference between ants and humans. Ants do not believe they need an enemy to hold the tribe together. Humans do. The difference could spell our downfall as a species.
It is frightening to see how quickly we demonize those unlike us. We are astounded at the outlandish beliefs held about Christians by members of the Islamic State. Their information is so patently wrong it would be laughable were it not for the real threat they pose to our safety. We see the sizeable splinter in their eye, but do we see the log in our own? To be sure, we are not beheading anyone, but that does not stop us from being judgmental in our own civilized way.
A lot of Evangelicals are upset I changed genders. When the information became public, I figured people had one of two options. They could either reexamine their view of what it means to be transgender, or they could assume they had been wrong about my character all along. I was more than a little disappointed with the number who chose the later option. Their judgmental spirit was painful to endure. But if I am honest, in the past year I have had my own issues with a judgmental spirit.
After transitioning I kept saying, “I’m still here. I’m still me.” I was frustrated people could not see I was the same person. I was judgmental toward those who could no longer see Paul in me. I was unreasonably critical of their inability to see the soul of Paul was present and accounted for. With time to reflect, however, I realized I too was working with inaccurate information that ignited fear. These people were not necessarily rejecting me. They just needed time and space to process difficult information. Additionally, I did not understand how much I have indeed changed, in both appearance and personality, and how difficult that has been for many.
I asked questions and I listened. When it came to feelings, these people who felt abandoned by Paul were the experts. They knew how they felt. Together we worked toward understanding. As usual, Cathy and my children and their spouses were particularly wise and helpful.
Finding the balance between judgment and being judgmental is difficult for all of us. But here is the thing. God is not encountered in a spirit of angry judgment. God is encountered in the thin places, and the thin places are surrounded by love, generosity and kindness. They are nowhere to be found when you harbor a judgmental spirit. While residing there I certainly did not hear the voice of God. I heard only my own angry voice, full of sound and fury.
No one avoids being judgmental. The best I can hope for is to remain there for as short a time as possible. Until I can see the very specific log in my own eye, anything approaching objectivity will be elusive. The only way to nurture an irenic spirit is to be open to challenge, eager to listen, and committed to wisdom and discernment. That is how the deep wisdom arrives.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Joe Gratz