The Effect of Judging

I was reflecting the other day on a passage in Romans in which St. Paul criticizes those who pass judgment on others. Although his thrust was that we often judge other by standards that we ourselves are incapable of meeting (“by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things”), my focus went to what judgment does to the relationship between the person doing the judging and the person who is the object of the judgment.

I think that what judgment does is to create a sense of distance between the person doing the judging and the person being judged. When I judge another, I won’t go so far as to say I completely write them off in an intrentional sense (although sometimes the feeling that arises during judgment feels pretty close to that), but there is a sense in which the act of judging separates me from them. There seems to me to be in judgment an inherent aspect of “you are inadequate in some way and I’m not” and at least implicitly that, at least in some way, “I’m better than you are.” There is a distancing.

As soon as I had that thought in my reflection, what came to mind in contrast was something that is sometimes referred to as fraternal correction. Unlike what happens in judgment, when I engage in fraternal correction of another I approach that person in love and with a sense of solidarity. I don’t judge and write off (think of Jesus criticism of the “scholars of the law” in Luke’s Gospel, who “impose on people burdens hard to carry, but….do not lift one finger to tough them”), I come to the person with a desire to try to have some healing effect on them. Judgment separates; fraternal correction unites.

As I was reflecting on the difference between those two, I thought that there must be other examples of pairings of feelings/states of mind that are very similar to judging vs. fraternal correction. Pity and compassion came to mind immediately. Pity is an emotion that separates us from another; compassion (suffering with) brings us together.

The end result of my reflection was perhaps a simple thought but one I think useful to keep in mind: the idea that one test for whether a feeling/state of mind is one that is “healthy” in a spiritual sense or worth following is: does this bring me closer to another, or does it create distance between us?