As I was channel surfing recently, it struck me how many highly rated television shows today are contests with serious-as-a-heart-attack judging, winners and losers, and lots of drama.
There’s “American Idol,” “The Voice,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” “Shark Tank,” “The Bachelorette,” not to mention all the shows on the Food Network where some aspiring chef is elevated to star status or crushed into oblivion because his use of ox tails or kumquats didn’t please some master chef who’s the designated Talent Crusher.
In a world where many people feel diminishing control over what’s happening in their lives and the world around them, watching a contest where some are crowned and some are crucified, apparently makes us glad it’s not us that’s losing, thus feeling oh so much better about ourselves.
Last week I spoke to about 100 people at a shelter where men and women in the most dire circumstances come as a last resort. They’re dealing with homelessness, unemployment, addictions, abusive relationships, and mental illness. One man sat in the audience with body language that signaled, “Mess with me and you’ll regret it.” He was scary.
Because of where we were and because of his appearance, I made an instant judgment that he was probably crazy, a felon, and an addict. He was none of those things. Afterwards, he came up to shake my hand, thank me for my talk, and to share just enough of his story for me to feel horribly ashamed at my rush to judgment. I was wrong.
It seemed like I was just exercising good judgment. But it went further. I took a giant leap from making a judgment about my personal safety to making a judgment about the man’s character, behavior, background, future, personal value, and more. It was pathetic.
Judging is necessary. Every day we decide what food we eat, who will be our friends, what is right and wrong in a given situation, how to spend our money and time. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Rather, it’s the way we think we’re judging others in the name of godly discernment, when we’re really making judgments about someone’s character or worth as a human being on the basis of one encounter or their appearance, behavior, politics, whatever. We call it wisdom…or speaking the truth in love…when it may only be a reflection of our own brokenness and need to feel better than someone.
Comedian Stephen Colbert famously made “truthiness” a part of our language (recognized by even the Merriam-Webster dictionary). It means preferring our own version of the facts or what we wished was true vs. facts that are true.
So…are your judgments true or just full of a lot of “truthiness?” How about a “truth or truthiness” self-audit?
Write down the ten people you interact with the most (family, friends, coworkers, neighbors). Name judgments you’ve made about them. Not what you say about them or what you want others to think you believe about those people…but what you really think about them. Do you know for a fact that it’s “the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
One way we exchange our “truthiness” for more truth is to plant God’s truth in us. He always speaks the truth. For example, he said none of us has been treated by him as our sins deserved (Ps. 103:10). Furthermore, God says the standard by which we judge others will be used to measure us (Luke 6:36-38), so we are encouraged to be merciful and full of grace.
Another way to think about being merciful is learning to empathize with others. The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic created this video to help their medical staff develop more empathy as caregivers. We treat others differently when we know their story.
In the end, God says, choose the truth over your own “truthiness.” And even if you don’t know a person’s story, love them anyway. He’s got the judging part covered.