Do We Have the Right to Judge Other People?

Don't Be a CardassianBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Since when do we think it’s alright to condemn someone when we don’t know all the facts and don’t even bother to consider their side?

In “Tribunal,” an episode in the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Chief Miles O’Brian heads off on vacation with his wife, but he’s arrested by Cardassians before they can reach their destination.

The Cardassians refuse to tell O’Brian what he’s been charged with. According to the Cardassian legal system, the charges aren’t announced until the trial.

“How can we prepare for the trial if we don’t know the charges?” O’Brian’s wife asks.

“Mrs. O’Brian,” the Cardassian Archon says, “there’s nothing for you to prepare. Your husband’s verdict has already been determined. He is guilty. The trial will reveal how this guilt was proven.”

True guilt or innocence, extenuating circumstances, none of it mattered.

While this might be an extreme situation, we do it almost daily on a smaller scale.

We judge people even though we have no idea what their lives are really like or what goes on in their head and heart.

I was hurt by this recently.

I set goals for this year that I felt would allow me to achieve my dreams while still enjoying my life and being fair to my husband, family, and friends. I didn’t set these goals hastily. I looked at what my life was and what I wanted it to be. Talked with my husband. Considered the implications.

But when I shared my goals with a friend, she felt free to criticize those goals, calling into question my work ethic and suggesting I wouldn’t succeed at my dreams if I held to those goals.  

The judgment on me was delivered without any real knowledge of how hard I planned to work, how dedicated I am, or what other responsibilities I might be juggling. She doesn’t live in my house, let alone in my skin.

I know this person meant well, and I’ve worked through the anger, hurt, and self-doubt the words caused. But I’ve wondered since if this person stopped to think about how those words might affect me, or did she value speaking her mind and being “honest” over everything else? Did this person stop to think that her way might not be the only way, might not be the best way? Did this person consider that the type of life I want isn’t wrong simply because it’s different from hers?

And I think those are questions we all need to ask ourselves when we feel the need to give our unsolicited opinion.

We seem to have this tendency to judge people when we haven’t walked in their shoes and never can because everyone’s life is different. I’ve done it. And it was arrogant of me.

When we criticize the woman who says “no” to volunteering at the food bank, or at the cancer walk, or at the fundraiser for juvenile diabetes, we can’t see that she spends her days caring for her elderly parents and that her body aches so badly in the morning she can barely get out of bed.

When we criticize the family with the unkempt yard, we can’t see that both parents are working double shifts to save enough for their kids to go to college and spend what little free time they have helping with homework.

When we tisk-tisk the woman in front of us at the grocery store because her cart is full of paper towels and she should use washable cloths because it’s better for the environment, we can’t see that she’s got three children at the age where potty training accidents, vomit, and spilled juice are the norm.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

It’s so easy to talk about what someone else should do. It’s so easy to think our lives are more difficult than anyone else’s. But in truth, we don’t know what happens behind closed doors and everyone has their own private struggles.

I know there are times when we need to speak the truth in love because a person is doing something that could hurt themselves or others. There are times when someone wants our opinion.

But unless that’s the situation, perhaps the best policy is to shut up and give people the benefit of the doubt unless there’s something we can do to make things better for them.

What do you think? Have we become too quick to judge others? What do you think is the best way to handle it when someone judges you unfairly?

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