My Problem With “Don’t Judge Me”

Everyone wants justice, but not everyone wants to be judged… here’s my problem with one of the most frequently used sentences in the entire world: “don’t judge me”.

Don't Judge Me
Judgmental frog is judging you…

Never before in history have the terms Nazi, racist, bigot, or “X”-ophobe (insert your phobia of choice here) been more prevalent in the common lexicon of our society. Well, perhaps maybe during World War 2 where those terms really did apply and some would wear those with a badge of true honour, but I digress. We live in a world that is very much up in arms about standards towards morality, legality and acceptance.

In truth, these issues have always been present throughout history. Recently I went on a big history binge on the history of the Ottomans, the origins of Russia from 2000BC, the history of China, and all the different wars and conflicts that have broken out over the last few thousand years. Ideals and a common set of standards have been heatedly contested to the point of bloodshed for millenia. So I guess the relative (and I use “relative” very loosely) lack of global scale conflict is quite welcome given how many millions of people have lost their lives in the larger scale conquests and conflicts (although many lives are still lost).

As individuals, we strive for harmony and acceptance in our way of life. Rightly so. Who enjoys living their lives in fear or being ruled by some tyrant who suppresses their people?

But on a micro-relational scale, we strive even moreso to have the love and acceptance of people in our circles.

Inevitably, people will disagree with us and have conflicting worldviews. Some are more libertarian, whilst others remain more conservative. Especially in democratic societies, the lines of what is right or wrong in terms of living are quite blurred, as the people are able to collectively change the lines at any time.

With friends, family, loved ones, even people we don’t know so well amongst greater society, there can be a feeling like you’re being judged for what your actions are. Usually, a person will consider themselves right, and be horrified at the suggestion that what they’re doing is lesser than the behaviour of anyone else, or even that it is wrong.

…But I actually think our fear of being judged has spawned a more terrible set of problems in our world today. Here’s my problem with “don’t judge me”.

#1: The original speaker said more than “judge not”

Whenever anyone says, “Don’t judge me”, the first person they are quick to quote is Jesus Christ. This is probably due to the heavy Christian influence present in the origins of many modern countries and was perpetuated throughout multiple world-spanning empires.

That’s right, people. Jesus said, “Judge not”. Case closed. End of story.

He also said, “Do not”. Those two words. Yep. Do not. Just don’t. Do not what? Oh, I guess there were some more words after those after all. And they were said multiple times about multiple things. Guess I should read more than two words of what someone says.

In the case of Jesus, He did indeed say, “Judge not, lest you be judged, for with the same measure you use, others will use”. He also said, “Judge with righteous judgment”, a much lesser cited saying. The ministers and sacred writers of Christianity also told people not only to judge situations, but to bring issues in life and leadership before government and clergy to be assessed externally by a neutral party. Not to be pre-judged (“prejudice”), but accurately and astutely measured and judged as they are. Jesus himself also told people the same thing. In the words of Doctor John Coulson, author of “The Righteous Judgment of God“, judging is to occur based on what actually happened, not just on what the party “feels” happened. Tangible actions, not internal emotions.

I think it’s dangerous to take two words someone said without context or further reading. Imagine if I did that with two words you said. Press that middle button on your phone keyboard in your SMS app and cower at the thought that someone might make an entire paradigm for life out of them. Dangerous.

So, what was the point of “judge not lest you be judged then”? The best summary I’ve heard of this is that the issue being raised is not the issue of judgment, but the issue of hypocrisy. And rightly so – why should you listen to someone complain about your marriage when they’re an adulterer themselves? Why do you have to put up with someone who fires people unfairly and then says you’re being too hard on people? The answer? You shouldn’t. As Jesus would go on to say, remove the log from your own eye before removing the speck in another person’s eye.

But if someone of upstanding character and righteous behaviour were to highlight issues in your life, there should be no defence against such correction. The truth is usually we’re doing something we already know is wrong and don’t want anyone else reminding us.

#2: Moral relativism doesn’t work

My next problem with this defence is that it is usually used in conjunction with, “Well, I don’t think this is wrong”.

And fair enough. There are many things that are an issue of preference that have no detrimental effect to society or self. But on other issues, a sense of blurred lines and “It’s right to me” don’t hold up.

Here’s my proof: child pornography. Right or wrong?

Well, many would say, yep, completely wrong. Not just wrong, but abhorrent. A complete perversion of sexual relationships.

So, at what age does it become right? In many places, the law would say 18. Some would say 21 though. Wait, so when is it not child pornography? Maybe you would say 18. Or 21. Maybe you’d say 16. Or younger.

But you’d be drawing the line on the issue yourself. And if you’re allowed to draw the line at 18, 16, 21, 30, why is it wrong when else someone draws it at 14 and calls it preparation for an intergenerational relationship?

Don’t get me wrong – my personal view is that if it’s wrong for a child to do it, it’s wrong for an adult for the same reasons – degradation and objectification of the person involved. But on the issue of judgment on this situation, whose line is it anyway?

We have a very slippery slope here. If you think it’s right, you’ll act accordingly, and you’ll probably be indignant in doing so, much the same as I set my line and act accordingly.

If you wouldn’t want someone drawing their own personal line on an issue like this, why do you tolerate it and think it’s okay when people do it on other issues? I think such an extreme example shows us exactly how it is: If morality is not absolute but liquid, how long before it shifts to a definition you don’t like?

#3: You aren’t protected from the actions of others

I’ve had many friends go into the film industry and become quite proficient at their craft. They’ve worked on movies big and small, from little indie projects to Thor: Ragnarok or Resident Evil.

And once they started in their industry, they came to the full realisation of how much it sucks to have someone pirate your work. You’ve spent millions of dollars putting it together, and now everyone’s work is not being compensated for.

It sucks when it happens to you, but how often we cry foul when someone “judges us” for doing it to someone else’s work.

If you want to misuse “Judge not lest you be judged”, you open yourself to a world where no one is judging anyone else, either. And someone could really use that to destroy your life without you being able to defend yourself.

Mercy and justice are two sides of the same coin, my friend.

#4: No one knows who you are or how to help you

So many people complain that no one wants to help them, but the same people also shut people out so they can’t.

King Solomon observed that every person’s actions are right in their own eyes – that there is a way that seems right to a person, but it leads to their destruction.

I wonder if you allow anyone in your life to tell you when you’re wrong? Or do you get pensive and annoyed at them, telling them they have no right to judge you? Granted, there are certainly people we should not listen to. Hypocrites for one are extremely difficult and often of no consequence to listen to.

But when someone upstanding in your life brings a polite, gentle, but stern correction, I wonder how you react? I wonder how many walls you throw up and excuses and defenses?

No one likes the light when they’re doing something wrong.

But without light to show you how things really are, not just how you’ve felt they are in the dark, you may do something that destroys you and several others in the process.

“I wish more people would help me”. They do try. They really do. But you tell them not to judge you. Sure, if they’re using a belittiling tone, it really isn’t easy or even sometimes worthwhile to listen to.

But if what they’re saying is bringing a necessary correction, you need to listen to it. You need to be open to judgment. Not only do we need to be open to it, but we need to invite it from the right people.

And so, all the well meaning people in your life eventually give up, as you place so much distance between yourself and them, that their warnings to quit the addictions, get involved in a support group, see a counsellor, talk the issues out some more or start living your life properly go ignored, and your life enters a chaotic and forsaken cycle of your own design.

Two are better than one. If one falls, another person can pick them up, but woe to the person who falls with no one around to help them.

Imagine if you went to the doctor’s surgery and they told you you needed to lose some weight or do some more exercise to improve the condition of your heart. Imagine if you then told the doctor, “Look doc, don’t judge me. Jesus said ‘judge not’. You should listen to Jesus'”. Six months from then, you would probably die of cardiac arrest.

Doctors are there to present the facts as they are. If you don’t like how the facts are, you need to change.

Likewise, when a judgment, a correction, a rebuke,  or “the faithful wounds of a friend” come across our path, maybe we should stop and listen to them. Maybe we should listen to the presentation of the facts, and if we don’t like the facts of our own actions, we should be humble enough to make a change.

It’s a lonely place when you push people away for fear of righteous judgment. That is, the kind of judgment that sets out to help you and protect the people around you. We all need it. Eventually, a refusal to accept any light results in solitary confinement in the dark, with destruction soon to follow. Pride comes before the fall.

Maybe we don’t need to be saying “Hey everyone please judge me”, but we do need to be asking the right sorts of people, and communicate a welcoming to any necessary rebuke or judgement that may come.

And hey, maybe their judgement of the situation will be that you’re actually doing pretty well. But without someone else spotting you at the gym to make sure your form stays correct, you’ll never actually know without assessing yourself against right standards.

How about you? Do you think “Don’t judge me” has a place?

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