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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Casting Stones and Judging Others Without Discernment



There is a big difference in being judgmental and in being discerning. Although some see the two actions as synonymous, they are not the same.

In Iran, the judgment of penalty for a woman committing adultery is being buried up to her neck before being stoned. If convicted of adultery, Iranian law requires the stones not be too big or too small so that the probable death is not merciful or prolonged. If a woman miraculously survives a stoning, she must then serve a jail sentence. In my book, that penalty is based on horrible judgment without any sense of discernment.

The ability to discern is fundamental to making decisions, and decisions are what allow us to get through life. We use discernment to make an enormous number of decisions every day -- some are very small and almost automatic, while others are so important that they are vital to our very existence. Whether setting the alarm to wake up the next morning or waiting until a speeding train passes before crossing the tracks, we discern to make necessary, good judgments.

According to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, we make about 200 decisions every day just in the context of thinking about food. No wonder we keep gaining weight when we entertain our whims of appetite and taste.

So, the quality of our decisions hinges on the quality of our discernments. For example, I am a sloppy, unfashionable dresser who makes poor decisions on discerning things like color, style, and coordination. Since I don't take the time and effort to discern how to be a good dresser, I am usually mismatched and out of style.

As important as it is to discern differences among objects and activities, discerning differences among humans should be even more critical. But, excuse the cliche, "birds of a feather" can support their own circles without thought. Misjudgments often occur, especially in the choppy waters of mixed company. 

When it comes to discerning differences between human beings, many people tend to be very judgmental. Why? Psychologists tell us it is because of the difficulty involved in acknowledging the importance of discerning differences among people. Judgmental humans want to think of themselves as "nice, correct people," and they feel that noticing differences among people's abilities is tantamount to valuing some people as more worthy than others.

Most judgmental, non-discerning people lash out at those in direct opposition to them. The more distinct (180 degree) the opposition -- black/white, Republican/Democrat, Christian/Muslim -- the more scathing their judgments.


Many judgmental people go beyond discerning differences in people's abilities to making inferences about their overall worth. To return to my unfashionable dressing, these judgmental people would assume I am sloppy and uncoordinated in thought and mind because of the manner in which I dress. They assume the singular characteristic of a displeasing quality equates to the heart and soul of the human being.

It is true that it may seem that a discerning person would have no choice but to be judgmental. However, that is not true. Dr. Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., explains this in these words:

"Several researchers, most notably Howard Gardner, have found that intelligence comes in many varieties: social intelligence (the ability to get along with people), emotional intelligence (an important aspect of which is to stay motivated in the face of obstacles), musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence (which is important for athletes and dancers), spatial intelligence (important for architects), etc. 

"What Howard Gardner and others have found is that, just as some people are higher in IQ than others, there is variation in terms of the other types of intelligences as well. As it turns out, there is no correlation between one type of intelligence and another type, which is to say that a person with high IQ is not necessarily high in the other types of intelligences. 

"What this translates into is this: given that there is no limit to the number of dimensions of intelligence, no one person dominates any other person on all dimensions of intelligence. In other words, no human being is "superior," overall, to any other. Indeed, one could even go so far as to argue that, when all dimensions of intelligences are considered, everyone is equally gifted in their own particular way."

(Dr. Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D. "Don't Be Judgmental, Be Discerning."   
Psychology Today. May 10, 2011) 

The point? We can value everyone as being equally worthy even as we recognize differences in their abilities and the manner in which they solve problems. But, unfortunately, many don't. Dr. Raghunathan speaks of the problem in these words: 

"It is possible to be both discerning and non-judgmental at the same time. But, even for such a person, it may be difficult to sustain being a 'non-judgmental discerner,' since most of us are so used to equating people's overall worthiness to their success that we are usually either discerning and judgmental or neither."

(Dr. Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D. "Don't Be Judgmental, Be Discerning."   
Psychology Today. May 10, 2011) 

Looking for and discerning everyone's true talents is a worthwhile challenge. Such activity breeds compassion, lessens unfounded critical judgment, and even sharpens skills of accepting and employing positive feedback. No one can escape discernment -- evaluation by family, friends, employers, and enemies.

What must be understood is that discernment requires that people understand a situation before passing judgment. To say we shouldn't discern and pass judgment would be folly and downright detrimental to society. But, to say we have the right and the knowledge to pass judgment without discerning a situation is wrong and hurtful even in the eyes of the most holy Christian.

Discernment also requires humility and an understanding that intelligence and wisdom come from all, not just from one "exalted" source. Everyone should question their own reasons and their own abilities to make good decisions, but they must also respect the well-reasoned discernments of others. Even strict disagreement of a belief does not make a dissenting opinion inherently wrong or evil.

The real message involved in discerning proper judgment requires that we must first judge ourselves -- our beliefs, faults, strengths, prejudices -- and then do our best to "clean our own houses"; then, we must use our discernment to help our brothers and sisters to clean theirs, not use it to tear down their abodes.

So, I think judgment is natural and even essential. The biggest problem with judging is living in a world with a zillion opinions, each of which may have some merit. If you are a life-long resident of rural Scioto County with little contact or experience with the rest of the world, your scope of reference is extremely limited. You tend to think you are a master of understanding based on living in a very confined environment, so you begin to judge all by your own narrow opinions. Doing so is detrimental to forging better communication with the rest of the populace.

“Discernment is God's call to intercession, never to faultfinding.” 

--Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place



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