by Fr. Randy Roche, SJ
The judges in many of the Olympic Games were required to observe precise specific behavior of athletes in the various competitions, and then quickly decide upon an appropriate quantitative score of the action they had just watched. We expect professional judges to be highly specialized and skilled observers who base their judgments only on the behavior before them, not on an individual’s reputation or any other personal quality. Most of our judging is not of this kind. We often make judgments about the behavior of people whom we encounter every day and even those we see only once, based on personal criteria that are often not even clear in our own minds, much less in the minds or intentions of those we observe.
The patterns we have developed over years of thinking and acting as we see fit are so spontaneous and personal that logical reasoning or emotional appeals rarely lead to radical changes in our habits of judging others. However, if we reflect on only a few of the judgments we have made during the course of a day, we might realize that we are pleased with some, but not with others. If we do this with some regularity, we are enabled to make gradual changes that enhance our capacity to judge properly.
We cannot become “pros” at judging even a small number of the kinds of activities of which people are capable. But we can develop excellence in knowing when to judge and when not to judge at all. Even the best of judges at an event might miss observing a critically important aspect of a performance, and need to abstain from giving any indication of approval or disapproval. We, who are in constant motion ourselves, often see only a limited part of someone’s behavior, and might be wise to forgo giving any indication of a judgment, no matter how we feel about the actions we actually saw.
We usually judge people according to our own personal values, and others judge us the same way. We do not find many standards that are agreed upon by almost everyone. Especially in our times, there seem to be few norms that are accepted by the majority of those even in the civic, ethnic, cultural or religious communities to which we belong. Reflecting on some of our judging, as well as on the effect upon us of being on the receiving end of both positive and negative judgments by others will not enable us to discover universally applicable truth, but we can count on learning something of greater value.
When we pause to consider our own interior workings, we are much more likely to have common but frequent experiences of inspiration, and not about judging behavior as right or wrong, but about the far greater good: the presence or absence of love. God’s judgment on us is that of merciful love. If we judge others as God judges us in this way, we will become ever more capable of making the distinction between a person and his or her behavior. And we will become less quick to judge others as right or wrong, good or bad.
“Who am I to judge?” (Pope Francis)
Father Randy Roche, SJ, Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has an M.A. in Theology from Santa Clara University, and an M.S. in Counseling from San Diego State. He has served as LMU Director of Campus Ministry, Rector of the Jesuit Community at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Director of Studies and Spiritual Director at the Jesuit Novitiate, and as Pastor, Superior, and Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry at the Newman Center in Honolulu.
Throughout his years of ministry, he has continuously deepened his own experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, while also acting as a guide in the Exercises for lay people and religious. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Ignatian spirituality as a tool for discernment in decision-making.