Most of us have learned or are learning the skills of critiquing and evaluating. They are useful in many professions and for making good decisions. Unfortunately, all too often we use these same skills to assess other people. What I am trying to say is that, at least for me, it is easy to criticize and judge people and their actions. Sometimes we keep these thoughts to ourselves, but too often we share them with others.
Jesus tells us many times in Scripture that only God can judge because only God can look into a person’s heart. Even though we might know this intellectually, it often does not stop us. After a while, we can fall into the trap of thinking we know all about others and how they should live their lives. Basically we are saying by our actions that we have the right to judge another person’s behavior.
Unfortunately, this human tendency to judge is not an easy one to overcome. It takes a lot of work and discipline. We have to consciously be on guard about saying anything that could harm another’s reputation. Sometimes we may find ourselves with a group of people who likes to gossip. Too often they sit around and talk negatively about other people.
Even though it may be hard, a good thing to do is to find a reason to walk away, or even better, try to change the subject or say something like, “Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about so and so.” It takes a lot of courage because we run the risk of being thought of as a righteous or blameless person, a goody-goody who never does anything wrong.
Another thing we can do when we are tempted to criticize or judge another person or situation is to remind ourselves that we don’t know all the facts. Often we do not know what is happening in another person’s life or situation. The person might be dealing with serious problems. Things might be falling apart in his or her family. Perhaps a close friend or family member is dying or the person is having severe financial problems. We don’t know, and even if we did, it is not for us to judge another’s behavior. Only God can do that.
Sometimes we can be guilty of judging even though we may not share our thoughts out loud. That is better than gossiping, but it is still judging and still causes harm. Even more difficult is to get to the point in our lives where we don’t even have a desire to judge other people. Perhaps when we reach that goal we will reach sainthood!
When we are tempted to judge or talk ill of someone else, it might help to recall the story in the Gospel where Jesus tells a group of men who are about to stone a woman caught in adultery that the person without sin can throw the first stone. You know what happened. They all walked away and no one threw anything.
Every now and again it is good to remind ourselves that no one is perfect, and all of us need to give others the benefit of the doubt. It would be a much better world if we concentrated more on building people up and cultivating a positive attitude. There is already enough negativity around.
So, the next time you are tempted to say something negative about another individual, try to think of one of his or her good qualities and ask God to help you keep your mouth shut or as my mother would say, bite your tongue. It is not always easy, but it is what Jesus taught us.
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