Reflection: Judge, Jury, and Executioner


So I am back with my seventh of twelve posts exploring toxic behaviors from an article called “Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal With Them.” ( by Australian psychologist Karen Young.

Today's Toxic behavior: being judgmental.

The Oxford Languages Dictionary defines “judgmental” as “Having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.”

Young Notes “We all get it wrong sometimes but toxic people will make sure you know it.”

Some people are better at pointing out our losses than our wins.

They seem more motivated to note our flops than our successes.

They may appoint themselves as failure historians, reveling in cataloguing our mistakes.

Ironically, these may be the same people who rail against us for being judgmental. They are champions of grace for themselves and their crew, but not for you.

We have plenty of names for them, some not printable here. We may call them haters, enemies, or busybodies. They may see themselves as agents of justice, preventing us from escaping accountability. And we may just see them as jerks.

But in the absence of redemption, accountability is just accusation. It’s one thing to point someone to the right path. It’s quite another simply to harp on how badly they went off track.

Now, there are two sides to this: If you are someone who refuses correction, and declines to be accountable, that’s a problem. And if you are this kind of person, chances are, you will see everyone as judging you.

People are quick to go to the Bible, say “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” and think that they’ve settled an argument, skewering religious hypocrites with the words of Jesus. But this passage doesn’t urge the abandonment of all standards of evaluation. It urges the avoidance of critical fault-finding, and hypocritical standards that allow me to assess your behavior, while mine is off limits. In essence, “judge not, lest ye be judged” says don’t put yourself in the position of a judge, one who is formally empowered to condemn, you’re not the Judge, and it will come back to you.

The interesting thing about judges is that in a jury trial, they aren’t the ones who decide guilt. They are the ones who pass sentence. The jury system, flawed as it may be, suggests that a group of your “peers” is in a position to hear the facts of a case, and assess whether or not you are innocent or guilty. And then a judge decides what happens to you. So it is certainly illegitimate and unwise in everyday life, for me to pass sentence on you. I have neither Heaven or Hell to put you in. But that is very different from maintaining the ability, by appealing to a set of core values and beliefs, to assess whether or not your conduct is good. And, yes, we encounter the complicating realities that different people, cultures, organizations hold different core values. And it’s exceedingly difficult to know all the facts of situation. And conflicts, by their very nature, often involve multiple sympathetic parties with competing needs. But we will still remain in positions where we will need to make judgments. In John 7:24, Jesus says, to a group of religious leaders angry that he healed a man on the Sabbath, don’t judge by mere appearances, but judge with right judgment. Don’t be pedantic rule keepers, but consider the spirit of the law, and determine the best course of action.

Making value-driven assessments is necessary. Making rule-driven condemnations isn’t. And when we engage in this practice, we are sometimes less concerned about sacred policy than therapeutic punishment. It’s not that we see the need for consequences. We desperately want consequences, either because we are angry at the transgressor, or because we are angry at other transgressors, and want to at least see someone face retribution. We want payback.

And if all we have is our words, and a receptive ear, we may spend our time tearing down someone for the horrible mistakes they have made, because we know it hurts them, or think it humbles them, all while keeping attention off of our own transgressions.

Young says of the judgmental “They’ll judge you and take a swipe at your self-esteem suggesting that you’re less than because you made a mistake. We’re all allowed to get it wrong now and then, but unless we’ve done something that affects them nobody has the right to stand in judgement.”

And here again, I would just distinguish between “exercising judgment (making an assessment)” and “standing in judgment,”

I don’t need special discernment to know that exploitative relationships are wrong.

The jury is not still out on whether domestic violence or infidelity is good.

I agree with the words of Desmond Tutu “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

But I am wary of the self-righteousness by which I deem your sins worthy of immortalizing, and mine as comparatively insignificant, and therefore worth of forgetting.

I want to be a grace vessel, not a grace killer.

I don’t want to have a standard for others that I myself don’t keep.

And I don’t want to add to anyone else’s pain because I’m worried they won’t experience it without my help.

I do not need to remind you to feel bad.

And if that’s my passion, I may need to examine myself.

(Photo Credit: Alex Bolovtsova)


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