12/01/2017 17:51 PM


by Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, West Virginia University

LEARNING TO STOP AND THINK BEFORE JUDGING   ‘Judging’, in the true sense of the word, means to form an opinion or conclusion of someone or something after careful consideration of our thoughts, feelings and evidence. When we choose to cross a street, we look both ways of the street and decide whether to continue walking or not based on the condition of the traffic. That is then making judgement based on hard facts because we looked at both sides of the street. We judge based on what we see with our eyes; what we hear with our ears; what we smell with our nose; what we taste with our tongue or mouth; and what we feel or touch with our hand or skin. These are the five major senses of our body that we use as our tools every time we attempt to collect the necessary information. The five senses may not function all at the same time or situation and they may not even collect all the needed information at any time. If we do not collect adequate and appropriate information about a certain subject or object through our five senses, we may end up making the wrong judgement about any situation. Lack of adequate information and too much irrelevant information from unreliable sources {such as social media, gossiping, political demagogue, etc) can cause serious problems in making a rational judgement of any situation because in both cases there is lack of hard facts or evidence that should reflect objective reality. In general, it is hard to always have sufficient and most relevant information about a particular situation.

In our social interactions the word ‘judging’ usually reflects and denotes negative connotation. Evidently, we do not want to be judged. Yet, despite our best efforts to be rational and decent, we all judge other people. It might be over small things, or it might be over big issues. We might even seek support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than using rational argument. As an example, suppose that we are walking through the woods and we find a small dog. From the outset it looks cute and friendly. We may try to approach and move to pet the dog. Suddenly, the dog snarls and tries to bite us. The dog no longer seems cute and we feel fear and possibly anger. Then, as the wind blows, the leaves on the ground are carried away and we observe the dog has one of its legs caught in a trap. Now, we feel compassion for the dog. Eventually, we came to know that the dog became aggressive because it is in pain and is suffering. We were judgmental at the very beginning before knowing the situation of the dog. What can we learn from this story? It is important to note that for every event that takes place in nature there is always a cause-effect relationship. However, if we ask the right questions and do proper analysis, there is always a logical or scientific explanation for the cause-effect relationship of the event. That is the reason why we need to keep on seeking for information by asking appropriate questions in order to collect actual facts and enrich our knowledge base so that we can make rational judgements based on reality. The story below from Keisha (UK) is another typical example that narrates the kind of irrational judgement that we make without having a better understanding of the objective reality of a certain situation.

Once upon a time, a doctor entered the hospital in hurry after being called in for an urgent surgery. He answered the call as soon as possible. He changed his clothes and went directly to the surgery block where a young boy was prepared for surgery. He found the boy’s father pacing in the hall waiting for the doctor. Upon seeing the doctor, the father yelled, “Why did you take all this time to come? Don’t you know that my son’s life is in danger? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility?” The doctor smiled and said, “I am sorry, I was not in the hospital and I came as fast as I could after receiving the call and now, I ask you to calm down so that I can do my work.” “Calm down?! The father said angrily, “What if your son was in this room right now, would you calm down? If your own son dies while waiting for a doctor then what would you do?” The doctor smiled again and replied, “We will do our best by God’s grace and you should also pray for your son’s healthy life.” The father murmured, “Giving advice when we are not concerned is so easy.” The surgery took some hours after which the doctor was very pleased of the result, “Thanks goodness! Your son is saved!” and without waiting for the father’s reply he went on his way while saying, “If you have any questions, ask the nurse.” The nurse entered minutes after the doctor left and the father commented “Why is he so arrogant? He couldn’t wait a minute so that I could ask about my son’s state.” The nurse answered, tears coming down her face, “His son died yesterday in a car accident, he was at the funeral when we called him for your son’s surgery. And now after he saved your son’s life he rushed out to the burial of his own son.” Now, how would the father of the boy feel about the doctor after he heard what the nurse said about the reality of the situation? Obviously, he would feel very much embarrassed and would regret of what he hastily said about the doctor. As it is commonly said, “Haste makes waste.” In other words, haste conclusion leads to wrong judgement. In most instances happy people are indeed slow to judge, while unhappy people are too quick to judge.

The moral lesson of the story is that we should never judge anyone at any time because we never know how the life of the other person is at any particular time and situation. It is absurd to make any kind of judgement without knowing what others are going through in life or what kind of battle they are fighting at any particular moment. One thing to keep in mind is that there is always a story behind every single person on the planet and it could be a story we never know anything about. It is important that we should not judge people before we truly know them. Just because someone is wearing a good smile on their face does not mean their problem is less than ours. Since there is always a reason why people are the way they are, it is essential to think about other person’s situation before we judge someone. Judging a person does not define who they are, it actually defines who we are. At times, judging someone is not actually bad, but the difference is in the way we do the judging. If we attempt to quickly form unfounded personal opinion about someone without having adequate information, the way we end up doing it will be biased and irrational. However, if we collect and accumulate concrete evidence, the approach we use to judge someone will be rational and unbiased. In fact, it would simply be telling the truth.

One day, a woman was flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, for some good reason or another, the plane was diverted to Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained to the passengers that there would be a delay for some time. The passengers were informed that if they want to get off the aircraft, the airplane would re-board in about one hour. Everybody got off the airplane except one lady who was blind. A man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell the lady was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight. He could also tell that she had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached her and calling her by name, said, “Kathy, we are in Sacramento for almost an hour, would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” The blind lady said, “No thanks, but may be Buddy would like to stretch his legs.” So the pilot proceeded to take the dog off the plane for a walk. Meanwhile, there were people waiting in the gate area. They all came to a complete stand still when the pilot walked out with a guide dog for the blind. Even worse, the pilot was wearing dark sunglasses. Seeing the pilot with a guide dog for a blind, the passengers assumed that the pilot was blind. They did not take time to stop and think or even ask questions if the pilot is really blind. Immediately, they got scattered all over the terminal and they were not only trying to change their flight, but they were trying to change airlines.

The question to ask is that how many times in our lives did we know with certainty that something happened in a certain way, only to discover later that it wasn’t true? How many times has our lack of trust within us made us judge other people unfairly with our conceited ideas, often far away from reality? The moral lesson of the story is that things are not always as they appear. When the passengers made their judgment, they were actually judging on limited information. It is always better to ask, if we seek to know and understand the facts than simply assume otherwise. We should not guess or imagine the intention of other people. Instead, talking is how we come to understand others, and clear up a great many problems. That is why we have to think twice and ask the right questions to get the right answers before we judge other people or situations. If we are able to secure a clear understanding of a certain situation based on collected concrete evidence, we cannot have the pleasure to be judgmental unless otherwise we are in denial of the actual facts. The truth is the thing that cannot be long hidden. However, denial of the truth happens many times by many of us. In fact, most misunderstandings and conflicts that happen among ourselves could be avoided, if we would be a little more patient and a bit more understanding when things happen in any kind or form. We should simply take the time to ask the right questions in order to seek for the truth. According to Thomas Berger, “The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge” which leads to rational judgment.

No human race is superior or inferior. All gross or collective judgments are wrong. It is human nature that we are all judgmental. When we become judgmental we are inevitably acting on limited knowledge. We need to be aware that every person is an individual and a product of different circumstances. Have we ever thought seriously how easily we can think ill or evil of someone without any grounded reason or justification? It is most unfair and mistaken to allow ourselves to judge someone based on appearance as narrated in the following story (David Mikkelson). There was a young boy in school whose mother used to cook for students and teachers to support her family. She had only one eye. The boy hated her because she was such an embarrassment to him. One day he was terribly angry at her when she came to the elementary school to say hello to him. He ignored her, threw a hateful look at her and ran out. The next day at school one of his classmates said, “EEEE, your mom only has one eye!” The young boy wanted to bury himself in the ground and for his mother to just disappear. He confronted his mother that day and said, “If you are going to make me the laughing stock of the school, why don’t you just die?” His mother did not respond and he did not even stop for a second to think about what he had said because he was full of anger. He was oblivious to her feelings. He wanted out of the house and have nothing to do with his mother. So he studied real hard and got an opportunity to study abroad. After a few years, he came back, got married, had children of his own, bought a house, and built a happy life with his own family in a town far away from his mother. Then one day, his mother came to visit him. She had not seen him in years and she hadn’t even met his spouse nor her grandchildren. When she knocked and stood by the door, his children laughed when they saw a one-eyed woman. Her son yelled at her for coming to his house even uninvited. He screamed at her, “How dare you come to my house and scare my children! Get out of here now!” At this time, his mother quietly answered, “I am so sorry, I must have the wrong address.” Then, she quickly disappeared out of his sight.

One day, her son received a letter regarding his high school reunion. He made an excuse to his wife that he had to go out of town for a business trip. He made the trip to the school reunion. After the reunion, for mere curiosity, he went to his old neighborhood where he grew up. His old neighbors told him that his mother died a few days before the reunion. He was not sad about the death of his mother. Nevertheless, his mother left a letter for him because she knew that he would come for the reunion. In the letter she indicated to him that she has always been proud of him though she was sorry to be a constant embarrassment for him as he was growing up. However, what she wanted him to know and understand is that when he was very little, he got into an accident and lost his eye. As a loving mother, she could not stand watching her son growing up with one eye. Selflessly, she donated one eye to her son and she was so proud to see him growing up with two eyes. A Tigrigna proverb really fits well to the story and says, “Alem grinbiT, (siginTir) zizerakayo gedifa zeizerakayo tihbeka.” It means, it happens in life that we may harvest what we did not plant. According to our culture in a mother and son relationship, the son was acting as an embarrassment to his mother more than she was to him. The mother received such cruel treatment that she had never expected from her son in return for the good deeds she did for him. Sadly, he never asked his mother how she lost her eye because he was preoccupied with his own feelings and pride. What did the young man feel when he learned the true story of his mother? When he learned of how she gave her eye to him, he should feel deep sadness and regret for all that he did to his wonderful mother. His mother did not tell him the story either when he was growing up. Perhaps she did not want her lost eye to be a constant reminder for him as he was growing up. She did want to make him feel guilty thinking that she made such a motherly sacrifice for the love of her son.

It is also commonly observed among our children in our Diaspora society that we, the parents, can be a constant embarrassment to them when we wear our cultural dress with traditional hair-do, when we speak English, or others with an accent, and when we drive an old taxi or work odd jobs like parking, security guard, housekeeping, nursing homes, food services, and babysitting. Since we are generally treated on how we look, or seem to have and know, it is essential that our children should be open-minded and have a better perspective of the facts of life and develop the pride to appreciate and cherish their cultural heritage and ethnic identity. We need to create a conducive and suitable environment in which we can freely have a morally charged and sustainable interpersonal communication with our young generation in order to enlighten and empower their perspective and aspiration. The dialogue that may occur at family level can be used as a powerful approach to gravitate them to avoid negative judgmental attitudes towards any situation and to encourage all of us to maintain peace and harmony in our society.

How we judge other people is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves. We judge because of our own selfish interests. When we judge, we invite judgment upon ourselves. By judging others, we hide our hypocrisy. The judgmental people have the courage to criticize and put others down, but they are too shallow and cowardly to recognize their own weaknesses. When we point our finger at someone, anyone, it is often a moment of judgement. We usually point our fingers when we want to scold someone, or point out what they have done wrong. It is futile to point fingers of condemnation because we are all guilty and innocent in many of life’s trials. What we need to understand is that each time we point our finger at someone, we simultaneously point three of our fingers back at ourselves. It means that we must have a look at ourselves at least three times before judging someone else one time. While it is in our nature to be judgmental, it is not at all useful to us when we look down on others, as if we are so much better than them. In a public discussion or in a political debate, we can learn tremendously from each other, if we stop and listen carefully to the argument of the other person and respond respectfully instead of judging with the intent of destroying personal character and creating unnecessary hostility and animosity among ourselves. Since we see what we want to see, for that same or exact reason we need to look the good side in people rather than the bad side. We need to be aware that being judgmental creates division, mistrust, and ruins lives and relationships. If other people are not what we want them to be, or think differently from the way we think, it is quite alright to disagree with their thoughts or opinions. However, it does not give us the right to judge them differently, or deny them the right to express their ideas, beliefs, or perspectives. We need to recognize the good intention, aspirations and desires of other people, even if it means overcoming our pride or ego for it can open our narrow mind beyond our comfort zone.

It is evident that the more we know ourselves, the less judgmental we become. However, we seem to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but we usually do not have a clear idea about how we should lead our own lives because we are very good lawyers for our own mistakes, but very good judges for the mistakes of other people. We try to find fault in others to prove that we are smarter, or better looking, or to feel better about ourselves. We get critical when others fail to meet our expectations, or when situations do not turn out the way we desire. We also judge or create opinion about others based on their looks or actions without even knowing them. We really should make it a goal each day not to judge people before we truly know them. If we know them, the truth might truly surprise us. Things do not usually happen the way we want them to happen. If we do not like certain things the way they are, we need to try to change it to the way we think is right or proper. If we cannot change it because it is a natural thing, we need to change the way we think about it and accept the way it is created. According to the Holy Bible, Matthew, 7/1 “Judge not, that you be not judged” because for the same way we judge others, we will be judged. The measure we use to judge others, it will be the same measure applied to us too. Consistent with the holy script, the Eritrean scholars and professionals together with the Eritrean communities and religious institutions in Diasporas, must take the responsibility in becoming the most prominent role models to our young and the restless. They have the moral obligation to teach the young to adopt the rational thinking and to do the right thing. They have to volunteer to guide and lead the young generation to stop and think before being judgmental so that they can develop a better perspective and positive judgmental attitude about any situation. Being judgmental can usually keep them away from embracing new experience and knowledge, from respecting their parents and siblings, from associating with good friends and new people, and from cherishing their cultural heritage and ethnic identity.

In general, we are humans who should care for each other. We should never wrongly judge someone because we never know, someday we might find ourselves in the same situation. We should not judge others because we usually see what the other person chooses to show us and we also see what we want to see. It is better to learn the facts before we assume; to think clearly before we speak; and to understand the cause-effect relationship of any situation before we judge. It is evident that the more we know, the more we realize how much we do not know. It is also true that the less we know, the more we think we know. That is why those people who know the least always have the most to say and what they say is mostly nonsense. Thus, we need a moral uplifting, perhaps a divine intervention, that enriches our perspectives and strengthen our human relationships because where truth is denied, where arrogances is enforced, where prejudice is celebrated, where condemnation is endorsed, where hate is embraced, and where character is degraded, human dignity is disgraced and decent people are disrespected. To be open-minded or non-judgmental is neither automatic nor inevitable. It requires the tireless sacrifice, passionate concern, rational thinking, and dedicated effort from every one of us to do the right thing. Our own society in Diasporas has a great potential resources to offer, if we collectively take the initiative and responsibility to bring our people together to cultivate and nurture our young generation with our indigenous knowledge, wisdom, cultural heritage, and moral character in a peaceful and harmonious environment. It usually takes less energy to be positive than to be negative. If we focus our energy in becoming compassionate instead of being judgmental, we can grow and evolve with love, honor, respect, and human dignity.

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