What right do we have to judge someone? To look at someone’s behavior and make judgments about them? If we want to be wise, we have every right. In fact, we should.
Dr.Henry Cloud pinned down something for me several years back that has changed everything about the way I practice counseling, protect my daughters, and choose my friends. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist and leadership consultant. He is the bestselling author and coauthor of over 20 books, including Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life.
He says that there are three types of people that you will come into contact with, and that recognizing them will help you figure out how to deal with them. They are the Wise, the Foolish and the Wicked. If you’re like me, you may think it’s OK to judge someone as wise or foolish. But is it OK to judge someone as wicked?
Are there truly wicked people in the world?
And if there are, is it OK for us to make a judgment about them? The word judging means “to form an opinion or estimation after careful consideration.” Our opinions are the not the final word, only God’s judgment is. But making a wise judgment about another’s character is within our ability and right.
Many women believe that they should give people the benefit of the doubt. That it isn’t nice to doubt someone’s word. That judging someone is wrong. That making excuses for someone’s bad or rude behavior is the nice thing to do. This is what nice girls should do, after all. Here are a few examples of giving the benefit of the doubt and making excuses when you shouldn’t.
- If the bully at school is mean to your child, you may have been taught to excuse his behavior by saying, “Well, that little boy is probably bullied at home, and that’s why he does that.”
- If your boss at work sends a threatening email to you, you may respond, “His boss must be breathing down his throat. He really didn’t mean to sound so hostile.”
- If your husband has a pattern of irresponsibility, passivity, and letting you do the heavy lifting, you may want to excuse him by saying, “Well, his family of origin was so messed up, he never learned how to take responsibility for himself.”
- Your mother refuses to call your daughter by her given name because she didn’t approve of the name in the first place. You let it go to avoid a conflict.
These responses sound nice, and understanding, and maybe even like the “Christian” way to respond. But they are not nice. They are not biblical. Overlooking bad treatment sets you up for more bad treatment. Habitual “niceness” makes you a prime target for worse kinds of abuse from truly wicked people.
Trusting Your Gut Instead of Excusing Bad Behavior
Discerning other people’s behavior and attitude accurately is your God-given intuition, your instinct, your sixth sense, your gut. Making judgments about people’s behavior just may save your or your kids’ life. You need this gift to make wise decisions about who to engage with, who to let your kids hang out with, and who to trust.
Women sometimes excuse their intuition about someone’s character just long enough to get really burned. Red flags about a person will show up, but because some women falsely believe they should give the benefit of the doubt, they ignore their intuition, and get into a world of hurt.
Judging isn’t Nice- it’s Smart
The benefit of the doubt is unearned trust. Trust should always be earned, not given. Maya Angelou said once,”When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Often times, though, we ignore bad behavior because we believe we ought to forgive, overlook wrongs, and just be more understanding. Countless clients grace my office with their stories of heartbreak and betrayal because they didn’t or couldn’t judge another’s intent as just plain wicked.
The Wicked are so consumed with ego, image, and self-righteousness, that they cannot see or care about the wasted people and relationships they leave in their wake. They are concerned with their good image, appearance and the admiration of others so much, that they use and abuse people without care in order to keep that good image at any cost.
To be passive about judging them is to invite them in. To make excuses for their bad behavior and self-serving motives is to collude with them. To ignore the hurt they cause you and others is to set yourself up for more.
Maybe you have gotten too close to someone like this. Maybe you’ve been touched by wickedness. Maybe you’ve lived with it for years, and you are just realizing how bad it is.
It’s never too late to get help, to reach out, to set boundaries. God has the ultimate say about judging the wise, the foolish and the wicked. God is ultimately responsible for exacting justice, for judging the motives of the heart, and for making things right. But we can call a spade, a spade, a duck, a duck, and protect ourselves in doing so.
Here are some resources for further reading:
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker