Here Comes the Judge:
By Amy Hirshberg Lederman
“I’m ashamed of myself,” she whispered into the phone.
“Oh hi Mom, good to hear your voice,” I responded. My mother often begins our phone calls in the middle of a conversation she started before dialing my number.
“I played bridge today,” she continued, “and was stuck with a real dud for a partner. She barely talked to me and couldn’t keep her mind on anything but her cell phone, which never rang by the way, which is why I don’t want one.”
Let it be known: My mother tends to judge people (and evidently cell phones) by outward appearances and first impressions. True, we all make assessments of others based on how they look, dress, talk, even eat, but her hasty judgments have always been a problem for me.
“So what happened, Mom?” I asked, knowing that whatever it was, it was bound to be a good topic for dinner conversation with my husband.
“We played bridge and just like I thought — she was terrible. Didn’t concentrate on the game, kept looking around the room as if she couldn’t wait to go home. I kept reminding her that it was her turn. But after the game, a woman at the next table came up to her and asked how she was doing. She answered so quietly I could barely hear.”
“Not so good,” Debbie whispered. “I’m waiting to hear from the doctor — about my kidneys. They aren’t working right and I may need dialysis.”
My mother was shocked. It had never occurred to her that her “dud of a partner” might have been preoccupied with such a frightening thought. And she was ashamed — of herself and how quickly she had misjudged the situation and Debbie herself.
Mom got up and went over to Debbie and put her hand on her shoulder.
“I’m going to think of you all weekend and hope that you get good news,” she said. Debbie thanked her and then began to cry. It was the end of a misjudgment and the beginning of a friendship.
On Monday, Mom called Debbie and learned that she wouldn’t need dialysis after all. Mom hung up, but not before telling Debbie that she looked forward to seeing her again soon. And she meant it.
It’s so easy, so very human, to judge another person, whether it’s a friend, family member or someone we barely know. The critical judge that lives within each of us creates a story, often based not in fact but in the fiction we create by our perceptions. And it is that story that becomes the lens through which we view him or her going forward. Dumb Debbie. Arrogant Alice. Pretentious Peter. Boring Bob.
But the real crime is what unfair assessments do to us. They interfere with our ability to ever know, let alone appreciate, the person sitting across the table from us, whether that table is in a classroom, boardroom or bridge room. If my mother had not learned about Debbie’s impending news about her kidneys, she would still think of her as dumb Debbie the next week at bridge and most likely find her conversations boring.
Many of us spend more time checking out the qualities and characteristics of a new car or a kitchen appliance than those of another human being. So how can we stop ourselves from becoming the critical judge?
One answer comes from the Torah which commands us to: “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is explained in the Ethics of the Fathers as a commandment of restraint. Boiled down to its simplest formula we are told: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others.”
It makes perfect sense to me since I hate being judged by others. So if I don’t want my friends to judge me - based on who I was 5 years ago or what I do for a living, then I have to be open to them and the changes and choices they make. To do otherwise denies a fundamental truth about human nature: We are continually growing, changing, and for many of us, striving to become the people we want to be.
We can quiet our judging minds only if we’re aware of our tendency to judge and make a conscious effort to stop. Sometimes we will succeed and when we do, we may find that our assessments are really burdens to us as well as barriers to friendship and understanding. That is why the sage words of Rabbi Hillel, written over 2,000 years ago still hold true today: “Do not judge another person until you have reached his place.”
from the June 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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