Imagine you’re in the grocery store and an unkempt woman with ungroomed hair, sloppy dress, and neglected hygiene stands behind you. Her smell reaches your nostrils and her appearance makes you cringe.
What would go through your head? What do you think about this woman? Why do you think she is the way she is?
Keeping your answer in mind, pay close attention to the words of Duane Elmer as he offers an important insight and exhortation for us all:
Suppose I am standing in the store waiting to pay the cashier. An unkempt woman with ungroomed hair, sloppy dress and neglected hygiene stands behind me. In less than five seconds I will probably draw some conclusions about this person, none of them positive. Yet if I catch myself and analyze my thoughts, I might reconsider.
Maybe she just learned her father has cancer in his rushing to help him.
Maybe her sick child desperately needs medicine.
Or maybe she’s depressed.
By suspending judgment, I can keep my mind open to alternative explanations for what I see in here rather than immediately assuming something negative. The issue is not so much what might have caused her appearance but what is my response to this “stranger” whom God has created. If I allow negative attribution to take over, I am inclined to ignore the woman’s humanity and her true needs. But if I stifle a quick response and remain open, it becomes an opportunity for hospitality – a moment of grace, maybe even healing.
Not all judgments are wrong, but most premature judgments are. We must suspend judgment until we see more clearly. That is unnatural and takes time. This is why we must practice suspending judgment. Making a judgment is the same as coming to a conclusion. If the conclusion is wrong, we have acted unjustly towards the person. Furthermore, once we have formed a conclusion, our mind is closed to new information that may change our conclusion. Even worse, once our conclusion is formed, we tend to see only the evidence that confirms the conclusion…
The Apostle James offers help: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Perhaps by listening we might learn something that will keep us from the grievous error of miss judging someone. (Taken from Cross Cultural Servanthood, p. 50-53).
Judgments are bound to come and need to happen. None of us can live without making judgments about other people. Judging whether or not someone is safe, dangerous, in need of help or compassion are important, even essential, judgments to make. However, the key is ensuring our judgments are true. Therefore, we must always suspend our judgments to allow the truth form how we view others, not our assumptions.