[Don’t] Judge Me!

This phrase has lost all meaning in the common usage.

imageWhen people say “don’t judge me,” sometimes they mean it playfully. No harm, no foul. Other times, however, this phrase loaded with accusatory meaning, as though the target had no right to make a determination of a behavior’s value. This latter instance is with what I take issue and to which our discussion is limited.

We have every right to make judgements. Indeed, if we didn’t make judgements, our lives would be chaotic–even dangerous. If I don’t make a judgement as to whether this alley is dark enough to warrant my concern, I would place myself at risk blindly running down back alleys. If you don’t make a judgement as to whether it was safe that someone cut you off in a snowstorm, you might find no reason to avoid doing the same yourself to someone else down the road (pun intended). I dare you to yell, “Don’t judge me!” after cutting someone off! Someone like me might laugh — someone else might do something worse.

The bible has some things to say about judgement. Yes, I’ll go there, because it is my opinion that the Bible is the source of most people’s flawed understanding and usage of this phrase (it is, after all, the world’s most published book). The passage that comes to mind is the overused “judge not, lest ye be judged” of Mathew 7. But most people stop there. The next sentence thereafter reads, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Here we can infer a right to judge, and if we so choose, our judgement is at the same time a judgement on ourselves. “Murder is bad–I wouldn’t do it”–simple as that.

Listen, I realize the New Testament teems with the theme of mercy–and heaven knows we can all use a heavy dose of it, but we have a right and in some cases a very tangible necessity to judge the morality of a certain behavior. It is also written in Mat. 7, “I am not come to do away with the law.” There are still moral issues that should concern us and behavior that warrants judgement.

Before you go thinking I am a stickler, that most people don’t mean all this when they speak it, understand that I would mostly agree. But to those who are interested in understanding and advancing nuanced progression in ethics, religion, or communication, we can take charge of our communication and knowledge and move on to the ceaseless pursuit of perfection.

My logic professor drilled the following definition into our heads: “Critical thinking is the careful, deliberate determination of whether to accept, reject, or suspend judgement on a claim.” When someone says “don’t judge me,” can we honestly assume they are being critical enough to implore us to merely suspend judgement on their behavior?

Personal judgement is like free speech for your mind.

So if you ever get the urge to condemn the freedom of judgement in another, consider saying instead, “Be merciful!” or “Have mercy!” (If you’re a logician, you might say “Suspend judgement!”) This is acceptable and retains the respect for an individual to take assessment of others’ behavior. Plus, it’s kinda cute.