The Virtue of Reserving Judgment

Have you ever been incredibly wrong about a person? Is there someone you know who ended up being the opposite of what you first expected? I hope you are thinking about someone that surprised you in a good way, because I am. Actually two examples leap to mind. One person, based on body language and seeming attitude, struck me as completely aloof. Instead this person is surprisingly tenderhearted, choking up at the slightest instigation. And another gentleman Will and I both met a few years back made the worst first impression on me. No he wasn’t rude, or ill-mannered. He wasn’t conceited or hypocritical. He was just so mild-mannered that I mistook him for uninteresting. In fact, I would not have made any effort to know him better. Ahh, but God had other plans. You see, my life is orchestrated, and so four years later, I know this gentleman pretty well, and he is nothing that I first imagined. In fact, his story is the least boring of any person I’ve ever met. My trusty intuition was dead wrong.
We make innumerable snap assessments everyday. We judge people’s motives and intentions. We infer rationales and ulterior motives. Our brains are amazingly efficient machines. We input data and nanoseconds later we can spit out all manner of conclusions. But is that wise? Don’t you think it’s good to recognize our own fallibility, to remember that we can be totally off base?
Two books that I’ve read in the last month address this issue. The real life story of Ron Hall and Denver Moore in Same Kind of Different As Me compellingly illustrates the propensity to misjudge. The love that replaced snap judgments in the lives of Ron and Denver proved astoundingly transformative for both men. And I recommend this thought-provoking book without reservation. In a less direct way, Andy Andrew’s The Noticer is also about misjudging others. This book is full of wisdom, imbedded in vignettes and dialogue. While this format is popular right now, it is not a personal favorite. Stories are helpful in understanding principles. Some of Jesus’ most convicting teachings were told in parable. But for me, stories are not always necessary. And if you use a story to demonstrate a point, I want it to be fantastic. Unfortunately, the stories in The Noticer do not always meet that standard. That said, Andrews has many great thoughts about right perspectives, encouraging words, human relations, and loving each other well.
But isn’t it interesting, and yet predictable that the best and most succinct advice is found in Proverbs? Solomon aptly summarizes the wisdom found in any book. For the two mentioned above the following verses offer a brief synopsis.
  • “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.” Proverbs 10:12
  • “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11: 25
  • “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” Proverbs 11: 12
  • “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Proverbs 12: 1
  • “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12: 18
  • “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16: 24
  • “Do not exploit the poor…” Proverbs 22: 22
  • “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9.
May we reserve judgment this week, may we speak pleasant words that are sweet like honey, and may we cover the wrongs we encounter with love.
And if you’ve read Same Kind of Different As Me or The Noticer I’d love to know your thoughts.