Not Judging Others Part 1: Our Opinions Often Cause Misjudgment

I’m starting a (probably short) series dealing with how people tend to view and judge others negatively.  I’ve observed that this can be a very dangerous habit, and unfortunately it is a habit among Christians as well.

I’d like to begin this series by highlighting something that I have found true in my own life: jumping to conclusions based on my opinions (not facts) causes me to misjudge people and situations.

One of the best books I have read on the art of communication is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.  In the book is a chapter titled Observing Without Evaluating which demonstrates the importance of separating what we see (or have direct evidence of) with what our opinion of that thing is.

Here is an excerpt of a poem written by one of Rosenberg’s colleagues, Ruth Bebermeyer, that illustrates this point:

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

Rosenberg explains:

Observations are an important element in nonviolent communication, where we wish to clearly and honestly express how we are to another person.  When we combine observation with evaluation, we decrease the likelihood that others will hear our intended message.  Instead, they are apt to hear criticism and thus resist whatever we are saying.

Here’s a couple of examples from the same chapter to make this really practical:

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Doug procrastinates.
Observation without Evaluation:  Doug only studies for exams the night before.

Observation/Evaluation Mixed:  Hank Smith is a poor soccer player.
Observation without Evaluation:  Hank Smith has not scored a goal in twenty games.

It was very eye opening for me to realize how impulsively and maybe even subconsciously I tend to jump from observation to conclusion or judgment!

Imagine finding that the trash has not been taken out and asking your spouse, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, or “Why don’t you appreciate me?”  Obviously these are assumptions about what the other person is feeling or thinking.  As Rosenberg points out (and you might guess yourself), this kind of communication makes us sound critical of others.

Instead of saying, “Why are you being so lazy today?”, perhaps one could say, “I noticed that the trash hasn’t been emptied, and you usually take care of it.  Have you had a rough day?”  The latter approach is clearly less judgmental and more loving and invites the other person into expressive communication.  This allows the other person to express themselves without feeling the weight of judgment or criticism, and it keeps us from jumping ahead to faulty conclusions.

As Christians, I think it is clear in the Scriptures and through the Spirit that we are not intended to judge each other in this way.

I’ve found that a good place to start evaluating if you do this yourself is to observe your own attitude and language towards others.  You might even ask those closest to you if you have a habit of doing this.

Can you share an experience or example where this has been true for you?

In part 2, I’ll suggest some potential alternatives to this behavior.

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3 comments on “Not Judging Others Part 1: Our Opinions Often Cause Misjudgment

  1. I like Rom 14. Verse 3 says “Let not the one who eats [or does whatever] despise the one who abstains [does not do the same], and let not the one who abstains [does not do] pass judgment on the one who eats [takes the action], for God has welcomed him.” (ESV) This chapter reminds me that among Christians, beyond believing in the Bible and Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, there may be a variety of behaviors. Our opinion of other believers should be “God welcomed him.” I need to be reminded of this every time I see another Christian doing this and think “I wouldn’t do that.” (hope this doesn’t digress too far from the focus of your post)

  2. I appreciate your thoughts here brother. I’ve learned over the recent years in marriage that communication is key. How I communicate is even more important. So the distinction between observation and evaluation is appreciated. Often times I’ve observed mixed with evaluation and it has proven difficult to navigate that conversation. Looking forward to the next post in the series.

  3. Hi Mark

    I saw the dates on this and the later post. I hope everything is okay. I do know about personal distraction; as I am a writer for my own blog.

    For me, I have had plenty of experience with people judging me. As a man with disabilities, it’s important to remember that I can be bad, too. Because of personal history, there is a tendency to think poorly of others.

    In grade school, I was determined to prove that I was smart or just as capable. For some reason, I thought others believed I was re,,,d or something. Truth is, they didn’t. They thought I was one of he nerds. Yes, they thought the opposite. Now, that’s stupid of me. 🙂

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