chairs“Don’t judge me!”

You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it.

Someone has judged you. Or you’ve been accused.

Maybe you judge bikers as being of a certain “kind.” And while I don’t know much about bikers, I know that many of them would die for one another out of loyalty. In many respects, that’s an admirable trait!

Being “judgmental” has become a loud and powerful phrase. Judgmental people think they are better than others, or holier than thou. Whatever being “judgmental” is, we don’t want to be it!

But I think the phrase has gotten a bit out of control. It seems that if you simply use judgment you can quickly be accused of being “judgmental.”

Let me explain what I mean.

We use judgment all the time. I don’t let my kids take rides with strangers. Does that mean I’m being judgmental and think that people who want to help kids are all malicious? Of course not. I’m using judgment.

That’s an easy one, and maybe even trite in the scope of this blog. But what about this:

A public school teacher here in Barrie sits for the national anthem at the start of each school day. In the presence of young kids, and when everyone else stands for O Canada, they sit. It’s a kind of protest. (I’ve talked to the principal but haven’t been able to figure out fully what’s going on. I know that I don’t know the whole story, but if I’m being respectful I don’t think that necessitates me being silent about it.)

A Canadian employee of the school board makes a decision to engage in an act of teaching (sitting in protest) when it seems to go against the school’s own code of conduct. Further, the national anthem is a symbol for the country. I lead Remembrance services each year and minister to veterans and their families. And ironically, this month’s “character trait” at the school is “courage,” and the kids just learned about the sacrifice and courage of thousands upon thousands of men and women who died in the horrors of war for the freedoms of our country.

And a teacher sits down during O Canada.

When I started this blog I wasn’t even thinking of this example. But it came to mind, and I think it’s a helpful one.

I think this teacher shouldn’t do this. I think if they have an issue with the national anthem or their country, they should find a way to express it in a way that isn’t an act of teaching in the presence of children (which sitting is), or that actively shows disrespect, or that contravenes the school’s own code of conduct.

Does this make me judgmental?

Some would say yes.

But no. I’m using my judgment. Here’s the difference.

In the popular sense, being judgmental is imagining you are on a judge’s bench passing final judgment on people—that because of who they are or a choice they make, that you are better than them.

Using judgment is thoughtfully expressing your opinion where a variety of opinions exist; we do this respectfully based on our learning and experience. We can learn from Ephesians 4:15 where the Ephesians are encouraged to speak “the truth in love.”

The difference between being judgmental and using judgment is vital if we are to have meaningful conversation in our increasingly diverse society. I can disagree with someone—and sometimes deeply disagree—and not be judgmental.

But I can use judgment. So can you.

You already do it all the time. You do it when you make 100 decisions each day about what constitutes right and wrong (for these are often the contours of how we shape our daily lives).

But we can often forget that when it comes to big ticket items that involve ourselves or other people—whether it be about how we parent, or various expressions of human sexuality, or different religions or worldviews, or abortion, or how we understand and interact with poverty, or a host of other ongoing conversations—having an opinion that is respectfully different can still quickly make us “judgmental.”

But alternatively, using judgment is thoughtfully expressing our opinion where a variety of opinions exist.

Writer Rick Warren has a good way of saying how we have, as a society, lost much of our capacity to dialogue and disagree respectfully:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

The truth is, I can never be judgmental (I don’t think!) because I’m no judge. I’m not better than anyone. If anything, I’m incredibly aware of my own flaws and how self-centered I can be. A newspaper once asked “What’s wrong with the world?” and GK Chesterton sent in this reply: “I am.”

I second that!

But my own imperfections don’t mean I can’t use my judgment and make decisions about what I feel is right. Whether that’s letting my kids take rides with strangers or expressing my dissent that a teacher in our public school system actively sits down during our national anthem.

In the end there’s only one Judge—and we’re not him. But “speaking the truth in love,” our voices can contribute to the unfolding symphony that is an increasingly complex and strange human existence.

Loving our neighbours is key. And this…

Our capacity to disagree may be one of the most telling markers of our maturity.