Friday, October 19, 2012

How Then Shall We Speak Up?

Can we make a judgment call without becoming judgmental?
In a society that ensures free speech for all, we often straddle between saying anything versus saying nothing. The former refers to people with glib tongues, uttering things thoughtlessly, gossiping or slandering others needlessly. The latter refers to people who prefer to mind their own business, retreating behind the banner that says, "I cannot impose my view on others."

Either extremes are unhelpful. On the one hand, loose tongues hurt people. One can claim the right to freedom of speech. Words that clearly defame another person can trigger legal actions. Others that infringe on the right and dignity of other people will raise the ire of the common folk. On the other hand, absolute silence emboldens the practice of evil. Edwin Burke has famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

How do we arrive at a healthy position of necessary speaking without judging others unfairly? Is it really possible to totally not judge anybody, or anything at all? Honestly, making a conscious decision ourselves is already an act of judgment. When we say something is right or wrong, it is already a judgment call. In fact, not judging anything is in itself a judgment call to refuse to decide. In some cases, it is a cop-out option in the light of two equally difficult stands.

October is Anti-bullying month. Can we truly not make a judgment at all? Anyone who comes up in support of "Anti-bullying" actions, will they be accused of "imposing" their values on others who disagree? For that matter, whichever stand we take with regards to legalizing or banning marijuana is also a judgment call. The issue is not the stand, but the reasons behind why we take any such position.

  • What is our basis of right and wrong?
  • Making a decision is one thing. Is it possible to make a judgment call without being judgmental?
  • Is there a way to hold our core beliefs without making it seem like we are imposing it on others?
When we misunderstand people, we risk misrepresenting them or their views. When we fail to consider others more important than ourselves, we elevate our self-importance. When we do not know the surrounding contexts or reasons, we are in danger of misjudging people for whatever decisions they have made. Misunderstandings can lead to people of both sides painting erroneous and even hurtful caricatures of each other. How then shall we speak up? 

The fact is this. All of us are judgmental. Some more, some less, but we all are. This is part of being human. We have to decide or discern, distinguish right from wrong, navigate our paths through tricky situations that require us to make frequent judgment calls. That said, judging people harshly is bad. Not judging at all is silly. Fair judgment is essential.

The following table is my personal paraphrase of Terry Cooper's list that contrasts "healthy judgment" and "judgmentalism." I find them very practical and helpful. Note that I have paraphrased a lot of them, and I take responsibility for the adaptation. The last part about prayer is my own contribution.

"Healthy Judgment" "Judgmentalism"
CONCERN: Involves concern for others Not concerned for others
TRUST: Trusts that others have a good motive, that people mean well Claims to suspect other people's ulterior motives.
HUMBLE: Practises religious or moral values with humility, charity, and tolerance toward different views Hold personal convictions but treat others with disrespect and intolerant behaviour
RESPECTFUL: Denounces ideas or behaviour, but respects the dignity of people Denounce people without separating act from person
OPEN: Retains personal opinions, and remains open to different views. Insists on absolute certainty without recognizing its limits or constraints.
THOUGHTFUL: Takes time to consider differences before coming to a well-thought out response. Lets emotionally charged behaviour makes a summary judgment, especially based on superficial evidence.
ASSERTIVE: Shows courage to make a firm decision. Shows fear of being wrong, and is unreflective, and shows lack of understanding of other viewpoints.
PRAYERFUL: As a Christian, I believe that being prayerful is key to learning to discerning the what, the when, the where, and the how to say or not to say certain things. Prayerless persons tend to be susceptible to careless decisions.

[Adapted from Terry Cooper's "Seven Distinctions between Healthy Judgment and Judgmentalism" in Making Judgments Without Being Judgmental, IVP, 2006, p28]

Let us all learn to think well with regards to judging well. One more thing. In our world of ideas and free speech, Christians ought to be reminded of their calling to be peacemakers wherever they are. This calling is to be lived out, even when there is a risk of people judging us. We live under the Judgment of God. How then shall we speak up? Begin with any of the eight above.


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