Good judgment or being judgmental? The fine line.

The day after Teenasia entered our home as a foster child for the third time in five years, I brought her to our local public school to register her for kindergarten. As we walked in the office, the first thing the secretary said to Teenasia—even before hello—was, “Honey, you don’t need that thumb in your mouth. Take it out.”  

The comment was made in a sweet voice; Teenasia obliged, and I didn’t say anything, but inside I was seething. With all Teenasia had just gone through, her thumb was about the only stable thing in her life at the moment. The secretary, of course, had no idea of all of this and did not mean any harm. But every time we choose to judge a situation we know little about, we take a risk.  

While sexual sins are often given the most press by those who like to point out sins, Jesus rarely spoke of them. Instead, the sin Jesus mentioned the most was judging others.  

Parents walk the line between using good judgment and being judgmental. If we are to keep our children safe, if we are to help them grow into the best people they can be, we cannot naively think only the best of everyone. To do so could put our children into harm’s way. 

Many times as parents we need to make a judgment about another parent’s decision that could impact our child. We need to use judgment about how well-chaperoned the party will be; what movies may be allowed in a particular household that our kids visit; how children are allowed to speak to adults in another household. So what is the difference then, between using good judgment and being judgmental?

 Jesus trusts us to use our judgment. In the Gospel about the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11), Jesus protected the woman by inviting anyone without sin to cast the first stone. In doing so he shows us exactly how weak our footing is when it comes to judging others—for when can any of us say we are without sin? 

On the other hand, the gospels show Jesus constantly inviting his followers to use good judgment—trusting them to understand when a law of the Sabbath should be followed and when it can be broken, trusting them—and therefore us—to recognize the hungry, the thirsty, the forgotten.  

The freedom trail. By repeatedly instructing us on the dangers of judging, Jesus is freeing us. Constantly being judgmental is exhausting. It requires us to tap into mental reserves to analyze the “facts” of a situation in order to make an assessment from those perceived facts. Jesus tells us to leave judging to God.

 In releasing us from the responsibility of judging others, Jesus gives us freedom to spend more time in examination of our own lives—freedom to simply live our lives. Jesus’ reminders not to judge protect us from ourselves—the less we judge, the less chance we will judge wrong.

Choosing to suspend judgment. Judgment implies finality. She’s a snob. He’s irresponsible. They’re too liberal. You’re too conservative. Judging others is attractive to us because often it’s easier to put someone in a box than it is to learn their whole story. When we choose to suspend judgment, however, we give our neighbor room to be heard. In listening to those we might ordinarily have shut out, we open ourselves to Jesus’ command to love.         

—Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, which just won the 2010 award for General Excellence from the Catholic Press Association.

Take a look at At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home—read a sample issue.   We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out  monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.


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