How to Be Mercifully Curious Instead of Judgmental

“Don’t be hasty.” For fellow Lord of the Rings fans, this is a beloved phrase spoken often by the character Treebeard. Treebeard was an Ent. An Ent, in the world of Middle Earth, is a being that looks much like a tree, and yet it isn’t. It’s a tree shepherd. It’s takes care of the trees. Ents live a long, long time. And in the books they are very slow to make decisions and to cast judgments. To Meriodoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took Treebeard says many times, “Don’t be hasty.”

It is not in the nature of the Ents to make hasty judgments. If it was, Treebeard would have squashed Merry and Pippin because by their physical size he thought they were orcs. But, he didn’t. He was curious. He wasn’t hasty to judge. He sincerely wanted the truth. So, he took time to figure out what they were, and when he wasn’t sure, he went to a wise source (Gandalf).

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I don’t know why it is human nature to cast hasty judgment on all aspects of life with so little fact. Perhaps it’s a subconscious defense mechanism. If we see an orc, or what we think is an orc, we want to squash it to protect ourselves (and others) without taking the time to really find out if it’s an orc.

We judge hastily the worst with our fellow human beings.

Yet, on the other hand, if we bump into an electrical circuit that isn’t working or if we come upon a new animal, more often than not, we take the time to study the circuit or make long-term observations about the new animal before making a final judgment as to the problem with the circuit or the nature of the animal. We enact curiosity instead of moral judgment.

If only we were so kind to each other. And, we can be.

What is Judgment

The definition of Judgment is:

An opinion or decision that is based on careful thought. The act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought. The ability to make good decisions about what should be done.

I find it interesting that the dictionary definition of judgment presupposes careful thought. What then do we call an opinion or a decision that is based on hasty, careless, and foolish thought? Well, the antonyms for judgment are ignorance and stupidity. I find those accurate.

So judgment is good. Ignorance is not. If we form an opinion or make a decision hastily, it’s chances of being good are low. And it can be destructive to us and others. Few lasting opinions can be formed successfully, if they are hasty. And few decisions made hastily are successful. Without taking sufficient time to educate ourselves, we will increase our chances of acting in ignorance and stupidity.

So, how do we quit being hasty?

Well, the tendency we have as humans to judge based on first impressions is a subconscious act of our reflexive brain functions. We cannot turn it off. But, we can control it.

I consider this subconscious judgment function a coping mechanism. From our earliest years we learn to make judgments based upon what we see and that defines how we build coping frameworks. We learn to read social signals, facial expressions, and to manipulate our environment based upon what we see. To suggest that we turn it off altogether is not only impossible, but unwise. We need it. But we need to control it.

The dilemma then is not judging, but learning to judge with careful thought. And, in our fast paced, entitled society, careful thought is defined as a few minutes spent Google-ing. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t sufficient (see previous blog post The Lost Art of Pondering).

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Judge Righteous Judgment

Christ commands us to judge. But, He commands us to do it righteously, as He does (3 Nephi 27:27).

It’s difficult to judge as Christ does. We simply can’t do it as well because we don’t have His omniscience, perfection, or love. But, we can learn to do it far better than we do.

Some great scriptures about how to judge righteously are:

Alma 41:14

Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

Matthew 7:2

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again.

Romans 12:19

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Whether you’re driving in the car behind a precarious driver or standing in line at the store behind a woman who is screaming at her kids, righteous judgment can be applied. Sincere curiosity can be applied. I find it interesting that in our rough moments we can completely understand why we’re driving precariously or screaming at our kids. And yet, when others do it, we make hasty, uneducated judgments.

I find it interesting that when we see others who look different than we do or who have chosen to live their life differently that we do, we automatically assume that they aren’t good people. And yet, when we react in un-Christlike ways to their lifestyle differences based on hasty judgments (i.e. ignorance and stupidity) we are actually the ones who in that present moment aren’t “good.” Did not Christ say to the Pharisees regarding justice, mercy, judgment, and love that they were the weightier matters of the law (Luke 11:42)?

We have been commanded to merciful unto others (Alma 41:14). What does that mean to me? It means giving them the benefit of the doubt. It means developing an appropriate and merciful curiosity about who they are and what their life is like.

A car pulls out in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes. My immediate conclusion could be: they are a maniac driver that cares nothing for the safety of others and should get their license taken away since they nearly injured me and my family. OR, instead of honking like a mad woman and becoming a precarious driver myself (all in an attempt to bring this maniac driver to justice and teach them a lesson), I could muse about why they might drive like that.

A devil’s advocate might suggest that coming up with suppositions to show mercy to the maniac driver is useless since they are guesses and I have no way of knowing that they are true. They very well could be a careless, maniac driver. And yet, I don’t know if that’s true either. Since I don’t know which is true, the merciful thing to do is to form a merciful guess. To be mercifully curious.

We have also been commanded to deal justly and to do good continually. So, whether or not the driver really is a maniac, for me to drive similarly in an attempt to punish him/her, is not just nor is it an act of goodness.

The same can be said for people we see every day who live life differently and believe differently than we do. No matter how they act or what they look like, we can focus on the merciful and good things we recognize about them: they are children of God, they are trying to live day-to-day just like we are, they have families, they work, they want to be happy, they have struggles and sadness (perhaps self-inflicted, perhaps not, we don’t know) and they are trying to find that happiness in the best ways they can. They are learning at their own pace, just like we are.

We are so quick to judge people by what’s different about them instead of by what we have in common. Interestingly enough, our commonalities nearly always outnumber our differences. Finding the commonalities is merciful and curious.

We’ve been commanded to leave final judgment and ultimate Justice to God (Romans 12:19).

No matter how terribly we have been wronged, we simply don’t know how people will act in the future. We don’t know if they will repent. We don’t know if they will change. We don’t know what current issues and struggles they have experienced which have influenced their sinful actions toward us. To attempt to refuse to forgive them for their wrongs against us and to attempt to seek vengeance is an act of usurping God’s authority to cast final judgment.

We have been commanded to love our enemies, to do good to those who purposefully wrong us, and to forgive all men (Luke 6:27, 35; Doctrine & Covenants 64:9-11). This seems so ridiculous. How is it possible that not forgiving someone’s sin against us is a greater sin than the horrific offenses which have been committed against us?

When we take final judgment upon ourselves, which we have no authority to do because it belongs to God, we are “playing God.” It’s a greater sin to try to cast final judgment on others when we can’t see all that they are and who they may eventually become. Look at the woman taken in adultery. Christ asked, “Hath no man condemned thee?” (Or, has no man cast final judgment on thee? Remember, they were going to stone her to death.). “No man, Lord,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn thee,” He said (meaning, I’m not casting final judgment on you either), “Go and sin no more,” giving her time to repent and change because He knew she had more time. (John 8:10-11) He who had the authority to cast final judgment did not. Did not Christ also say while hanging on the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He understood that those soldiers were minions and urged on by the judgments of others. He knew that despite their treatments of Him, they didn’t comprehend fully what they were doing. That’s mercy. That’s righteous judgment.

Now, by advocating curiosity and mercy in light of making judgments, I know that many feel (and I have felt myself) concern. Does that mean we simply let people mistreat us and never react, never hastily judge?

My opinion is that the answer is, “Yes.” I have learned that it’s much easier to act, than to be acted upon and always react to external influences (see previous blog The Power to Become).  God is not a reactor. If we would be like Him and judge like Him, we must also not judge by reaction. We must choose the type of person we want to be and act, consciously, even in light of offenses, and bumping into people each and every day that we know nothing about. God is not hasty. Neither should we be hasty.

Does that mean when we see people day-to-day that we can’t make accurate judgment calls? No, we should make accurate, kind, curious, and merciful judgment calls. And, we can teach our children about the different lifestyles of others in a kind way while also reinforcing our own beliefs. It simply takes a loving viewpoint. Casting judgments out of fear will never save our kids. It will only teach them some people are to be feared, shunned, and possibly reinforce the idea of treating them unkindly. If we would have them be confident in their assessments of life and the Christian beliefs we have, we must be honest.

Example:

“I don’t know why they dress like that, or look like that,” we say to our kids. “We all have to decide how to live our own lives. You know we’ve taught you to _(insert commandment)_ because we believe that _(insert clear gospel doctrine that explains the WHY behind the commandment)_. But, they are children of God just like we are and He loves them. We should be kind to them and love them too, right where they are.”

It’s hard to leave final judgment and justice to God. It’s hard not to cope with our environment by casting hasty judgments based on shallow cues. It’s hard to forgive when others have offended us deeply and continue to do so. It’s hard not to consider them lost forever. We want to condemn them and write them off so we can move on. It’s very hard to leave the judgment and Justice to God…at first.

Personal Peace is the Result of Righteous Judgment

Casting hasty moral judgment about who people are, what they’ve done, and their moral path is not only impossible to do accurately, it’s simply fruitless. And considering people condemned and lost forever never results in peace. We think we are being righteous judges, but we are miserable souls determined to control our environments by carrying loads of hasty opinions around on our backs. Such burdens make us impatient, self-righteous, prideful, angry, and rigid.

On the other hand, learning to leave judgment and Justice in God’s hands always results in peace. We let go of control on everything but our own lives. We carry no burdens of hasty opinions, no bonds of physical reactions to others’ lifestyles, and we quit all quests for vengeance and Justice. Our need to verbally or physically show our outward judgment dies. Our desire to micromanage how everyone around us lives becomes a silly endeavor. We simply learn to teach, instruct, and correct lovingly when opportunities arise. We become more patient, humble, happy, and accepting. It doesn’t mean we stop having beliefs, strict morals, and standards. But it means that we don’t measure others by our spiritual, social, and psychological rulers. We have peace because we only worry about that which we can control: ourselves. It takes an incredible load off to give the rest to God.

Just like the malfunction in our electrical circuit or the new animal we’ve never before seen, we need to adopt an attitude of merciful curiosity. We need to seek to understand what it is our mind tries to make sense of the moment we see it. We need to practice and take control of our natural judgment center and strengthen our ability to “not be hasty.” We need to educate ourselves. We need turn our brain to more merciful conclusions. We need refuse to retaliate and condemn when offended. We need to simply let go and leave judgment and justice in the perfect hands of God. God is just. Justice will always be served, but not necessarily in our limited, flawed, and weak mortal time frame.

And thank goodness we all have more time to learn, grow, and become.

Some Judgments Must Be Made

Without fail, some judgments must be made. Some judgments we don’t get a lot of time to ponder. In such cases, when time makes it difficult to be careful, then nothing can better avail us than a quick prayer. God knows our circumstances. He will guide us if we ask.

BT

 

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2 Comments

  1. Well, I sure needed this post. You seem to have an invisible eye on me. Lately every post is spookily timely. Thanks once again for the timely insight.

    Like

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