Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Contradictions of Swift Judgment

When The Person "In the Daily News" is Your Friend

How smug and condescending we can be as we watch the evening news and read the paper.  We make such quick, harsh judgments about the people caught in the cross-hairs of public scrutiny.  As a man is being led off to a police car, we think, "A crime is a crime."   As we hear of someone killed in an accident where carelessness is involved, we shake our heads and say, "It was his own stupidity."  When someone dies of a drug overdose, we say, "Well, it was his own fault."  When a young shooter sprays bullets into a crowd, we think, "Why didn't his parents see this coming."

I am a compassionate person, but I admit that I often make these same swift judgments, without any knowledge of the full story.  Unfortunately, in the past few years, I have been forced to acknowledge the shallowness of judging others.  Suddenly, these "others" became people whose lives intersected with mine through friends and family. 

A man died while riding his four-wheeler on his own farm, as he ran into a "neck high" wire he had placed around his field of marijuana plants.  Upon hearing this, I shook my head and said, "Another example of stupidity."  And then, I heard his name.  He was a long-time friend of members of my family.  How I regretted my harsh words, as I realized the anguish his death would cause to so many I knew. 

A man set fire to his farm and kept fireman from entering his property.  As photos were shown of him walking to the police car, I thought, "What a jerk!  Who would burn down his own house?"  That night I received a phone call from a good friend who had watched this man grow up on this family farm.  She was devastated at the news, and talked to me of the good times their families had through the years on this very farm.  Once I heard the background to his story, I was appalled at my callous judgment of his actions.

I recently watched the news as parents turned in their mentally disturbed son who had bought a gun and was having thoughts of harming people.  How unthinkable to be in a position where you must place your own child into the hands of law enforcement in order to protect others.  As we agonize over the increase in mass shootings, and often place blame on the parents, we must remember the grief and disbelief felt by the families and friends of these shooters -- the question in all of their minds being, "How could I not have seen this coming?"

We sit in judgment as we watch these brief news reports -- how easy it is to see the world as black and white when we are talking about strangers, and hearing about the crime or the accident itself, with no inkling of the background story involved, and the ripple effect on the emotions of family and friends, whose lives will never be quite the same.  How easy it is to condemn a criminal without knowing the details; how quick we are to judge the drunk or careless driver. 

The truth is that we can all find ourselves in these nightmarish situations.  A phone call in the night, or a policeman at your door, and your entire world can shift in a heartbeat.  And then, instead of being the one standing in judgment, we will be the ones forever haunted by the questions and the anguish.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Matthew  7:1-2


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