There is no doubt that we love to judge. We do not hesitate to offer our opinion about subjects in which we have no qualification (‘Which do you think was greater – Jesus or Buddha?’), and give unasked for comments on people we do not know. (‘Can you believe the way that person on the train was behaving? Absolute lunacy!’) This is probably because judging gives our ego a boost, just like a shot of sugar brings a short-term rush. When the rush dies down, we look for some other place to throw our judgment, so we can surf a new wave of superiority.
Jesus certainly knew about this very human behaviour, for in his Sermon on the Mount he said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” No doubt millions of children raised in the Christian culture have had this phrase waved under their noses when they have complained about their siblings (‘She took my shirt!’ ‘He’s sitting in my chair!’) and as a consequence have learned the basic lesson of family politics : don’t complain, and try to get along. If you complain, you will just attract complaints on your own head. And if that has helped weary parents keep peace at the dinner table, then the Master’s advice has been useful. But there is a more profound lesson here.
If we observe someone’s behaviour, and have a negative judgment of it, where does that negativity reside? In our own mind and heart. It is possible that we will share our view with that person, or with someone else, but before it ever leaves our lips, our own spirit has been darkened by a shadow. And because of the addictive ‘sugar-cycle’ of being judgmental, we will usually seek to add more and more shadows to our spirit, an ever increasing load of pollution. Then it becomes very difficult to break free. Much better therefore to stop the habit early, to turn aside from being critical, and look for things to praise. Prayers do not begin with a denunciation of all that is limited, but with praise of that which is beyond limitation.
And if we simply cannot live without some form of judgment, then give the task to the Divine Presence, for in the prayer Saum we say, “…Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Forgiver of our short comings.” It is only the All-Knowing that can judge with accuracy, but even more important it is the All-Loving that is able to forgive all errors – both those of our deluded neighbours, and our own impressive collection of flaws.