Judging vs Assessing: What’s The Difference? Why Should We Care?

We’ve all heard from Scripture that it’s bad to judge. But what does this mean in real life? Life is full of dangers and amazing opportunities. It’s chocked full of deep and shallow relationships, people of different ages, different races and diverse backgrounds. Many times a week, we find ourselves in different spaces, with different paces, all with different surroundings and different behavioral norms.

Judging Is Unavoidable
Whether at work or play, we constantly make snap judgments. And not all of these judgments are bad. We consider who to talk to, what to say, how much time we spend, and who we let close to us. For the sake of our spouses and children, we discern when we should lock the doors, walk on the other side of the street, or even when to talk formally or informally.

And the judgments don’t stop there! At work, we’re expected to effectively communicate based on the person’s status, position, knowledge, strengths and weaknesses. We must judge whether it’s to be in an email or a group call, who’s on the call, the purpose of the call, etc.

In short, we’re always forced to make these instant decisions. We’re always drawing the lines. We’re always setting boundaries, and we’re always choosing when to listen, when to speak, who to talk to, what to say, and in what manner to say it. This is our objective reality. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

So what does it mean not to judge?  And what’s the difference between negative judging and making an objective assessment?

Part of the problem is with the English language. The word “judge” can mean both to assess and to condemn. For example, there’s nothing wrong with judging whether or not it’s safe to cross a bridge or skate on thin ice. That’s just using your brain to make an objective assessment. We can also make objective assessments about people too. For example, “John is often late.” As every manager knows, there’s nothing wrong with assessing if a person is capable of doing the job assigned to them.

Judging People Is Different Than Judging Situations
However, there’s a danger in judging people. People have an inherent value. So we must walk a fine line between assessing a character flaw, versus condemning the person for having such. Therefore, we should watch out for “objective assessments” that contain an extra hidden, secret conclusion about the person’s worth. Just ask yourself, “Does my assessment have a bitter taint to it? Does it conjure up an image that carries a bad taste in addition to the facts I’m stating?”

Examples of Good and Bad Judging (Assessing vs Condemning with the latter in red)

  • John is often late. You may want to consider someone else to open the store in the morning.
  • John is a slacker…John doesn’t have his act together, John is lazy…
  • Graham doesn’t handle spreadsheets well.
  • Graham is incompetent at making spreadsheets.
  • Given that money disappears on Sam’s shift a lot, I think someone else should be the treasurer.
  • Given that SAM is a thief and lacks even basic integrity…
  • Graham needs to be more assertive when it comes to scheduling conference calls.
  • Graham is just so passive…
  • Sam has anger against anyone LGBTQ.
  • Sam is a homophobe.

Why This Matters?
Not everyone is safe to be around. Not everyone is honest or kind or dependable. But there’s a big difference between assessing this reality versus condemning the person’s worth. There’s a reason we’re told to be kind. There’s a reason we’re told to be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to anger. And the reason is because when we don’t do these things, we’re more likely to wrongly condemn people. We’re more likely to belittle their value.

The fact is that we never have all the facts. So we are never in a good position to determine someone’s worth. This is not to say you should always keep your door unlocked, or be quick to put the thief in charge of the moneybag. But did you know this thief was honest until he got hooked on pain pills after a tragic car accident? Or that this thief was trying to buy medicine for his child who was dying of cancer? We may never know these things. This is why it’s never our place to condemn. God is the only one fit to judge. So let’s not be so quick to kick Him off the throne!

My Own Personal Bout with Assessing vs Condemning
Last week I was humbled. A rift had occurred with a friend who would never make plans until the last minute, and worse, she was quick to cancel at the last second. To top it off, she owed me a small amount of money but took several months to pay it back. We’ll call her Julia, but that’s not her real name.

Assessing

  • Julia is quick to cancel so don’t set your heart on her showing up for events. Be ready to go without her.
  • Don’t be quick to lend Julia money unless you’re willing to wait a long time to get it back.

Condemning

  • Julia is flaky and unreliable-she cancels all the time.
  • Julia must not care about me and has no integrity…otherwise she’d have paid me back much sooner.

The Reality

It turns out Julia was a single mom caring for a diabetic older brother. She was also driving her troubled son back and forth because he lost his driver’s license. In addition, she was supporting her elderly sisters who are trapped in a hostile South American dictatorship. This year alone, she spent $6K to send them things and try to help them get US visas. So there were reasons why she was always cancelling. There were reasons why she was short of money.

The reality was that Julia was handling lots of responsibility. She was very caring, very dedicated. And here I was, a guy with no kids and three houseplants, passing judgment on her for being irresponsible and uncaring! Boy was I wrong… Bad mistake! Case dismissed!

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