My daughter’s favorite show is currently Elena of Avalor. I don’t blame her – it’s funny, has some really interesting characters and stories, has catchy songs, and also teaches some really awesome life lessons. All of my boys even like it.
I was watching an episode with her today, an episode we have already seen, in fact, where Princess Elena and her best friend, Naomi, are busy planning an important festival for the entire kingdom. Then, a cousin of one of their royal staff, a young woman named Rita, shows up and has a keen desire to help with the festival. Things start going wrong all over the place, and Naomi has a sneaky suspicion that Rita is responsible.
When Naomi finally accuses Rita of specific wrongdoings, Rita sweetly denies it, and Princess Elena, rather than agree with her friend, expresses genuine worry about Naomi’s stress levels.
The audience knows that Rita is in fact not who she appears – she is actually an evil young woman named Carla who wants to steal a special crown from the treasury, and has only been pretending to be helpful so she could get to it.
Now, in real life we might have trouble figuring out if “Rita” were genuine or fake, friend or foe. Naomi probably should have gotten proof before attacking Rita’s intentions, and Elena probably should have been more supportive of her friend’s gut instincts.
This episode made me think about judgment. I know people who think that having any constructive opinion or concern about someone is wrong because “you are just being judgmental.”
But judging isn’t necessarily wrong – we have to do it all the time. We have to judge people and situations for our own well-being and safety.
Are we wrong sometimes? Absolutely. I can think of plenty of times I have been wrong, for better or for worse. Here are some examples:
- I have blindly trusted someone for years, believing she was a victim of so much familial hatred, and it was only years later that I realized her true colors, that she was the prime source of the hatred, and that her family didn’t actually hate her at all. They just felt they had to keep their distance for their own well-being.
- I have misjudged when someone was trying to hurt me, even my friends. Rather than give the benefit of the doubt, I have assumed the worst, letting my irrational hurt feelings cloud my sound logic.
- I have taken sides in situations where I know for sure one person has done bad things and I have listened only to the words of the person who was hurt, not realizing that hurt often goes both ways.
- I have had bad feelings toward someone, getting very frustrated at their seeming inadequacies, only to get context later that humbled me greatly.
- On the other hand, I have judged someone more correctly than I would ever want to, only to be treated horribly for thinking about the safety of my family above all else.
Judgment can hurt whether you are correct or incorrect in your judgments. Does that mean we should never judge anyone and just assume everyone is always a good person who will only do good to you?
No, for that would be misguided. As I have thought over the years, I have learned some tips to help me in making appropriate judgments (something that will be a lifelong struggle for most of us, including myself):
- When something doesn’t sound right or feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your gut and do some investigating to confirm.
- Look at a person’s fruits. Words aren’t nearly as powerful as someone’s actions over time (See St. Matthew 7:16-20).
- It’s okay to be concerned about a person’s past. Just don’t let it define how you think about them forever. Let their present actions speak for them. People can, and often do change.
- If someone you love has deeply hurt you, talk to that person. Don’t wait. Don’t stew. Don’t assume. Talk to that person. If he/she loved you before you got hurt, most likely that love didn’t just disappear into thin air.
- When you are caught in the middle of two or more people and are not sure who to trust, talk to all of them. Get all perspectives. Make the best judgment you can and try to be supportive in whatever ways coincide with your values.
- Be understanding if someone feels like they need to make constructive judgments about you or someone you care about. If someone is misinformed, please kindly and respectfully inform them, but if that person has valid concerns, respect them, realizing judgments in and of themselves are not bad.
- Try not to make judgments based on looks alone, just one interaction, or solely the opinions of others. You should definitely the opinions of others into account, but don’t blindly believe everything you hear either.
- When you make a judgment, ask yourself if you are being fair or kind. Do you really have enough information to make a fair judgment? If not, it would be best to postpone judgment.
- Always remember that you are not perfect so you can’t expect others to be perfect. By the same token, some actions are far worse than others, and bad enough that precautions must be taken.
- Pray for help to know how to handle and judge a particular person or situation when you just aren’t sure what to do.
I love the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount. In St. Matthew Chapter 7, he talks about judging. First, he says to “judge not.” Then he says that we will be judged the way we judge. He goes on to say we should worry about our own imperfections before pointing out everyone else’s. Finally, he said that we will know a person by his fruits, or his deeds.
These are wonderful words of wisdom from our Master, but can be a little confusing, for he seems to at first be saying not to judge at all, but then says how we should judge.
I love a talk that Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave at BYU in 1998. He discusses this very thing, and he makes it clear that final judgments are what are wrong, where we look at one particular part of someone’s life and decide what type of person they are and always will be. That is not up to us – only God can make final judgments. But, it is acceptable to make righteous “intermediate” judgments. Please read his talk linked above. It helps so much!
The most important thing I take from all this it is that we need to remember that Christ atoned for all of us. We all have our moral agency to do wrong, but we also have the moral agency to turn our lives around and do better. That is a gift we all have, and it isn’t our place to determine what someone deserves eternally. And even if we make an intermediate judgment that someone or something isn’t good for our well-being and safety at this time, it’s important to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibility of change later. That’s why we need to continuously pray for what to do, and how to handle people and situations.
I pray that people forgive me when I do wrong and do not judge me on one thing I have done, or the way I was at one time of my life. If that is what I want for myself, then I must do my best to give that same courtesy to others.
Judging is a tricky business, and Satan uses it to bring contention, pain, and hopelessness. I hope we can all try to judge righteously so we can still feel love and hope for others regardless of the intermediate judgments we must make each and every day.