I ran across this article over at the Huffington Post and wanted to share a bit of it here as it reminded me of a very important peacemaking principle that God continues to teach me.
The author of the article from the Post writes about an encounter with a mom and her crying baby at a pharmacy (hint: nobody was happy about the crying baby) and how thinking about the circumstances that could have preceded the encounter helped them rethink their harsh judgments of her. The author calls it thinking about the “moment before”:
In acting class, the few I’ve taken anyway, coaches constantly urged me to think about the “moment before.” Since film scenes tend to start during the middle of a conversation — i.e. skipping all the “Hello, how are you?” “Fine how are you?” moments — actors are told to think about what the person was doing or feeling right before the scene began. Did they get stuck in traffic? Are they flustered? Did their mother just die? What is the person’s state of mind?
When I looked at the poor frazzled mother who was publicly chastised for not miraculously making her baby stop crying I thought about her “moment before.”
Perhaps she had been stuck in her house all day with a new baby and just wanted to get some fresh air, so she walked to CVS and, not having a real purpose to be there, she bought a couple diet sodas. Maybe it’s a treat for her? Maybe her boyfriend or husband loves them? Maybe it’s all she can afford?
Or maybe her baby had been crying all day and night and she was trying to teach him or her to stay in the stroller without throwing a fit and CVS was a trial run? Maybe she was weaning the child off of constantly being held. I don’t have a baby; I don’t know how it works.
Maybe the baby was really hungry and she knew this and she was trying to get out of the store but the CVS line was 10 minutes long. Maybe she never meant to be there for so long (she was only buying soda after all) and knew if she breastfed in public she might get chastised for that as well. Maybe this was the least bad option she had.
There are about a thousand things that could have led that diet-Root-Beer buying mother to not pick up her baby but none of us thought about that. We tried her and judged her and let her go with her punishment: public humiliation.
You can read the whole article at The Huffington Post here (Warning: there is some coarse language in the piece).
Being a young mother of a toddler and a newborn, I’ve known this scenario all too well and have sometimes wanted to explain to looking eyes what the circumstances where behind the tears. That urge to explain the “moment before” has made me increasingly appreciative of those who look on my (and countless other moms) with a bit more compassion. It’s also convicted me of ways that I’m too quick and to harsh with my judgments.
In moments where I’m quick to judge, I try to remind myself of how Ken points to scripture to show that this principle of looking at others’ situations with compassion has its root in making charitable judgments instead of critical ones and is something the Christian should do:
Although judging is a normal and necessary part of life, Scripture warns us that we have a natural tendency to judge others in a wrong way. For example, Jesus says:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:1-6)
As this passage teaches, when we evaluate and judge other people, our natural inclination is to ignore our own faults and to make critical judgments of others. Jesus is not forbidding critical thinking in the positive sense, which is evaluating others’ words and actions carefully so we can discriminate between truth and error, right and wrong (see Matt. 7:15-16).
What he is warning us about is our inclination to make critical judgments in the negative sense, which involves looking for others’ faults and, without valid and sufficient reason, forming unfavorable opinions of their qualities, words, actions, or motives. In simple terms, it means looking for the worst in others.
Instead of judging others critically, God commands us to judge charitably. The church has historically used the word “charitable” as a synonym for the word “loving.” This has resulted in the expression, “charitable judgments.” Making a charitable judgment means that out of love for God, you strive to believe the best about others until you have facts to prove otherwise. In other words, if you can reasonably interpret facts in two possible ways, God calls you to embrace the positive interpretation over the negative, or at least to postpone making any judgment at all until you can acquire conclusive facts.
For the whole article by Ken Sande on charitable judgments and a discussion on where it is appropriate to judge critically, check out Charitable Judgments: An Antidote to Judging Others on our website.