Before you Judge...

It was not the chatter that disturbed but the content of the discussion. Don’t get me wrong, they were a complete nuisance because I could not get any work done; either because of their distraction or that I was too busy eavesdropping on their passionate gossip. The chatterboxes were Secretaries to two very highly placed dignitaries in my city at the time, they were having the time of their lives swapping juicy titbit stories of their bosses misdemeanours, each endeavouring to outdo the other with a worse story than the last. As a newly employed office assistant, I was in no way qualified to participate in the banter, nor did I have any experience to share even if I was invited, but on hearing them I quickly formed my opinions and judgements. To say I was disappointed, appalled and enraged would have been correct. I expected better of these men they discussed, and I was ready to let everyone know it. At the time, the men were held in very high regard and some of the things these ladies were talking about fell short of a high calling. I was angry because they were very relevant in our society, had the respect of everyone, and were being celebrated as pillars and fathers of the land. I wanted them to be exposed as frauds and not deserving of our reverence and laudations. No, they were not accused of murder or blood sacrifice, my problem was not necessarily in what I heard they did or said, but in the perfect expectation I had of their persons and the high value that I held them to. Other people may have reasons to fall and make mistakes, but not these men. While I was seething in my pool of disappointment and righteous indignation, I heard a little voice in my head, or was it my heart, I’m never really sure where exactly it always comes from, but you know that voice you’re sure it’s not yours because what it says are way too smart for you to come up with, and it said, “never judge anyone until you have worked in his shoes and overcome his struggles”. I exploded in a torrent of argument with the much smarter voice in my head; men of high standing should have a high standard. I ignored the voice and stood my ground, condemning them in my heart.

It’s been over fifteen years since that incident. I have not yet achieved a lot of what those men had achieved at that time, but I have been guilty of quite a number of their sins. I have seen myself break those same rules, one after another and then some more and yet I am not as indignant at myself as I was with those gentlemen. It’s ironic I must say that I am quick to find a reason even if not to excuse my own failures, but to forgive them, while I am adamant not to extend the same curtesy to someone else who is in need of it. I got reminded of this experience recently when I discovered that I now exhibit a particular trait that I passionately condemned my late Dad for when I was just a lad (I shall keep you guessing on the trait). It made absolutely no sense to me that a grown man would do such a thing, and I concluded my loving Daddy must have a faulty chip or defective wiring. About 30 years down the line, I’m doing the exact thing, and I don’t consider myself defective at all.

We tend to judge and condemn other people based on our own interpretation of their actions. It is easy to see clearly what someone else has done wrong, but the line gets blurry when we or someone we are attached to is under surveillance. I always tried to understand the popular quote, “Do not judge so you won’t be judged” and I have been proud of my clear conscience in keeping this commandment to the letter. Unfortunately, I recently realised that my own version of the law, the one I keep, goes something like this, “Do not judge those who do the same wrong as you, but crucify everyone who fails where you’re strong”. I found out that like most people, my benevolence gravitates towards those that I shared flaws with, but I had no patience for those that I didn’t understand their weaknesses. Judgement is meant to be an objective activity based on the rule of law, meaning that irrespective of person, the same rules apply. But for us,  judgement is subjective and applies to how much we understand the situation and empathise with the law breaker. We forgive arbitrarily because we share a feeling with the offender, but deliver the harshest of sentence when we feel the offender should have known better or deserves no mercy.

I realised that I have no right to judge another person, not because there are no clear cut rules on right and wrong, but because:

·         I have no moral right to declare someone guilty on any charge if I can be found in violation of any rule whatsoever. A thief has no right to condemn a murderer just because their crimes are different.
·         Since what goes around comes around, I should be very careful how I condemn other people for the mistakes they make, knowing that someone somewhere or someday will judge me for the mistake I have made.
·         It is easy to condemn someone for failing at something you have never experienced before. We are experts at telling others how to live their lives and how to act in situations we have no knowledge of.

Before you give an opinion about someone’s actions, make sure you have both experienced and succeeded where the person failed. As a counsellor, I have listened to stories of people who I was not certain I could survive what they had been through and irrespective of these people’s challenges, they earn my respect.

The fact that we, as individuals, shouldn’t condemn people does not mean that people should not be held accountable for their actions. The law is objective and has rule over everyone under it. The messengers of the law have the right under the law to enforce the rule of the law over the citizens. This is not the type of judgement we are discussing here. If you steal and you are caught, you go to jail, you can’t tell the judge, “hey men, have you not done any wrong yourself?” When acting on the behalf of the law, the judge is righteous, so is the police, teacher, tax collector … (the list goes on). What we are discussing here is the judgmental attitude that we carry around with us every day. We have this tendency of seeing everything wrong in the behaviours and character of other people and exercise strong opinions as to how they should be tried meanwhile we would do the same as the guilty party or even worse if we are put in the person’s shoes. So before you snap your fingers and click your tongue ask yourself, "what would I do if it were me?"  

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a writer, entrepreneur, blogger, public speaker and an all-round knowledge junkie who likes to view life from different angles.

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