Much of this lesson is pulled from an article in the Sep 1973 Ensign entitled: “Judge Not” by Kenneth L. Higbee (pg. 8)
Ancient and modern scriptures frequently warn us not to judge others or be quick to find fault with them. (Matt. 7:1; Acts 10:28; Rom. 14:10, 13; D&C 20:54.) We are told that Christ is to be our judge (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; Rom. 14:10–12; James 4:12; Morm. 3:20), and he has even said that he is more concerned with saving us than judging us (John 12:47).
Sometimes this leaves us with the feeling that we should never judge others in any way. Here is what it says on lds.org:
“Sometimes people feel that it is wrong to judge others in any way. While it is true that we should not condemn others or judge them unrighteously, we will need to make judgments of ideas, situations, and people throughout our lives. The Lord has given many commandments that we cannot keep without making judgments. For example, He has said: "Beware of false prophets. . . . Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15–16) and "Go ye out from among the wicked" (D&C 38:42). We need to make judgments of people in many of our important decisions, such as choosing friends, voting for government leaders, and choosing a spouse.
Our righteous judgments about others can provide needed guidance for them and, in some cases, protection for us and our families. We should approach any such judgment with care and compassion. As much as we can, we should judge people's situations rather than judging the people themselves.” (Topic: “Judging Others” on www.lds.org)
Although we need to be able to righteously judge people and situations, we need to be careful.
We need to follow the counsel of our Savior when he said:
"Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5)
It’s so easy to get caught up in the bad habit of finding fault with others, even though we know we shouldn’t do it. We may find ourselves criticizing our family, friends, church leaders, or total strangers.
This leads me to ask: why do we criticize and find fault with others? Let’s consider some possible answers:
(1) It is easier to criticize than to be constructive. As a nineteenth century clergyman noted, “Only God can form and paint a flower, but any foolish child can pull it to pieces.” People are not perfect; they are sometimes annoying, disappointing, inconsiderate, and selfish, and they do make mistakes. Thus, it is easy for us to find faults, because there are plenty of them around.
What effect could this have on a marriage or a family? How about a friendship? Would this make it harder for us to sustain our church leaders?
(2) The second reason we may try to find faults is To magnify our own virtues. One way to improve ourselves is to develop our talents, skills, and virtues. However, because it is easier to criticize than to be constructive, we may decide not to improve ourselves but instead attempt to make others look smaller by tearing them down; then we will look bigger by comparison without actually becoming any bigger. Secure, successful people do not feel the need to undermine others in order to establish their own worth.
How does this affect us when we do this to others? How does it affect our spiritual growth? (Lack of progression, damaged relationships) And on the flip side- how do you feel when you are criticized or have your faults pointed out?
(3) Another reason we judge others is To justify our own faults. By pointing out how many other people have faults and that some of their faults are worse than ours, we make our faults seem smaller by comparison. As President N. Eldon Tanner has noted, “Sometimes as I move among people I am almost convinced that it is human nature to magnify the weaknesses in others in order to minimize our own.” (Improvement Era, June 1967, p. 29.)
Again, we are halting our own spiritual progress by focusing on the faults of others rather than addressing our own.
(4) The fourth reason might be Revenge or jealousy. Because we may have been wronged by someone, we may want to get even with him by hurting him. Or we may want to tear down a person who outshines us if we are covetous or envious of what he has.
How does this affect those around us? What kind of example are we being? Who might be harmed by our example?
(5) And the fifth and final reason could be To shift the blame. When we make mistakes, we may avoid the responsibility for them by criticizing the performance of those who are working with us. Or we may try to shift the responsibility by finding fault with the performance of others.
We’ve established that finding fault and judging unrighteously have some very negative impacts on ourselves and others. In addition to what we’ve discussed, Brother Higbee pointed out 5 very good reasons not to judge others:
1. Our perceptions may be wrong.
Brother Higbee gives a good example of how perceptions can vary widely. He says “ …in a speech class I took in college, each student gave a speech on which all other class members turned in a written critique. One student informed me that “some gestures were vague and repetitious,” while another complimented me on “good motivated gestures.” One student noted, “You seemed so nervous,” while another commented, “You seemed very much at ease.” Since the students were perceiving the same person giving the same talk, their different impressions must be due to factors other than the person being perceived. What are some of the factors that may cause differences in our perceptions?
What affects our perception? (Upbringing, education, experiences, family, attitude, beliefs, etc.)
Another factor that might affect our perception could be Context. The context in which we perceive a person affects our impression of him. A person or an act may be perceived differently in different situations, not because the person or act has changed but because the context has changed.
For example, a 31-year-old college professor was introduced to a group of college students as a fellow student. The students were asked to estimate his age. The average guess was 23. He was introduced to another group of students as a professor. This group estimated his age at about 30. In addition to the age difference, the “professor” was also perceived as being significantly taller than the “student.” Thus, he was viewed in the context of “student” or “professor.” If the perception of physical characteristics such as age and height can be distorted by context, then we can understand how perceptions of emotions, attitudes, words, and actions can be even more susceptible to distortion.
2. The second reason we should be careful of finding fault with others is that our perceptions are limited.
A tendency of most people is to form impressions of others on the basis of very limited information. Having seen someone for only a few minutes, people are willing to make judgments about a large number of his characteristics. When we start to judge someone on the basis of one exposure to him, remember that even the Lord does not propose to judge a man until the end of his days.
Even if we could observe all of a person’s acts and words, we would still not have sufficient information to judge him, because we cannot see his reasons for his behavior. We can only infer his intent from what he says and does, and we have seen some reasons why such inferences can be wrong. Yet the intent may sometimes be more important than the act itself. For example, suppose a four-year-old girl knocks a glass off the kitchen table and breaks it. Would you judge her as harshly if she were trying to surprise her mother by cleaning up the dishes as you would if she did it because she did not want to drink her milk?
Have you ever had someone misjudge you because they didn’t understand your intentions? How did that make you feel? What could be some reasons that people act in ways that seem offensive to us?
We should always err on the side of mercy and assume that the person meant no harm and probably didn’t even realize the effects of what they did.
The judgment of the Lord is fair and just, because he can accurately perceive intents (1 Kgs. 8:39; 1 Sam. 16:7), and he takes these into account in judging us. As President Brigham Young noted, “It is not by words, particularly, nor by actions, that men will be judged in the great day of the Lord; but, in connection with words and actions, the sentiments and intentions of the hearts will be taken, and by these will men be judged.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 10.)
3. The third reason we need to be careful not to judge is that: We may not be worthy to judge.
Even if our perceptions were accurate and we could perceive intent as well as behavior, we would still not be qualified to judge. The Lord indicated the reason for this in his Sermon on the Mount when he told us to not be too concerned about the mote in our brother’s eye until we get the beam out of our own eye. (Matt. 7:3–5.) In contrasting a small particle of dust in our brother’s eye with a large piece of wood in our own eye, the Savior was suggesting that, because we ourselves are sinners, we are not justified in condemning others for sinning. …Some of us spend too much time discussing other people’s sins when we should be working on our own. If we cannot make ourselves into what we want, what right do we have to try to make others over?
What happens when we take this a step further and advertise the weaknesses or faults of others? What effect can that have?
Think of the harm you can do to others by not only focusing on their faults, but then advertising those faults to others. You may inadvertently change someone’s entire opinion about that person, or even create hard feelings between others when there weren’t any to begin with. When we focus on the weaknesses of others we tend to build up our own pride and think “I’m better than that” or “at least I don’t have to worry about doing that.”
4. Another reason that we may judge unrighteously is because we see only what we are looking for.
Our expectation that something is going to happen may cause us to act in such a way as to actually cause it to happen, thus fulfilling our prophecy that it would happen. For example, if many people believe a rumor that a bank is going to collapse, and they all hurry to withdraw their money, they may cause its collapse. The same phenomenon can be found in our interpersonal relationships. To a considerable extent, people act as we expect them to act. If we expect the worst from people, we are likely to get it. If we are always criticizing, emphasizing weaknesses, and looking for others’ faults and dwelling on them, we may give them the impression that we expect them to behave in the very manner we criticize; we thus encourage the negative behavior that we are always emphasizing. The principle of the self-fulfilling prophecy is suggested in the following words of President Tanner:
“If we will always look for the best in others, in our friends, in our neighbors, in our wife, in our husband, in our children, they will turn out to be the most wonderful people in the world. On the other hand, if we are looking for their weaknesses and faults and enlarge upon them, these same people may become even despicable.” (Improvement Era, June 1967, p. 29.)
Have you ever experienced this? Why does knowing someone well sometimes increase our likelihood to find fault? How can we overcome feelings of frustration or annoyance with those we are close to?
5. We need to be careful because we may be setting ourselves up to be judged harshly.
The Lord said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1.) We frequently focus on the first part of this statement without realizing the significance of the second part. The next verse explains what the second part means: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt. 7:2.) The same idea is expressed in the Lord’s Prayer (again note the second part of the statement): “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12; 3 Ne. 13:11.)
What these verses suggest is that the criteria we use in judging others during mortality may be applied by the Lord in judging us. Thus, we may actually be judging ourselves when we judge others, in the sense that we are establishing the measure of justice and mercy that will be measured to us in the final judgment. (See also Alma 41:14–15)
If the Lord uses his own criteria for judging, we are assured of a just and merciful judgment. (Ps. 103:8; John 5:30.) Are we confident enough with the criteria we use in judging others that we are willing to have the Lord judge us by our criteria rather than his? Do we want him to judge us in the same way we judge others? If not, then perhaps we should be hesitant to criticize and condemn others.
How can we work to overcome the tendency to judge others and learn to be more tolerant?
What qualities do we need to develop to counteract the desire to find fault?
N. Eldon Tanner said: “Only by suspending judgment do we exhibit real charity. It is hard to understand why we are ready to condemn our neighbors and our friends on circumstantial evidence while we are all so determined to see that every criminal has a fair and open trial. Surely we can try to eliminate pride, passion, personal feeling, prejudice, and pettiness from our minds, and show charity to those around us.
Let us look for the good rather than try to discover any hidden evil. We can easily find fault in others if that is what we are looking for. Even in families, divorce has resulted and families have been broken up because the husband or wife was looking for and emphasizing the faults rather than loving and extolling the virtues of the other.
Let us remember too that the further out of line or out of tune we ourselves are, the more we are inclined to look for error or weaknesses in others and to try to rationalize and justify our own faults rather than to try to improve ourselves.
If we’ll stay busy with improving ourselves and try to be filled with charity towards others we won’t have the time or energy to notice or point out the faults of others, and in the process we’ll draw closer to Heavenly Father and be better able to draw on the power of His mercy and forgiveness.
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