Pondering further on my recent posts about Fundamental Attribution Error and Projection, I find that the phrase The Rush to Judgement keeps recurring in my mind.
It seems that we cannot help this: that our minds make judgements all the time, and frequently outside the operation of our will or even our conscious awareness.
But our will and awareness do have a role to play. We may not be able to stop our minds from indulging in Fundamental Attribution Error, or Projection, at least in the short term, though I suspect with a bit of mental discipline, awareness and practice, we could reduce them dramatically over the longer term. However, I do believe that we can take responsibility for what happens next: that is what we do with them.
One of the first things must be to choose to attend to them, and to evaluate them. A fundamental evaluation is whether we are judging actions or people.
The first of these, judging actions, we may be required to do. If an untruth or an injustice is propagated, it may be our duty to oppose it. Even here, however, we should proceed with prudence: our judgements are not infallible, and there are many occasions when it is better to keep silence than to speak.
But the second case is the more dangerous: when we rush to judge people: to ascribe motivation to their behaviour, and moral qualities to them. This is surely where the injunction Judge Not! comes into play. We are clearly forbidden from judging their moral worth (the state of their soul). That is God's prerogative, and we have no competence or rights in that regard.
The trickier area is judging their moral competence. That is to say, if somebody repeatedly tells untruths, or commits injustice, or proclaims ignorance as truth, we may need, for our own protection, to note that fact. If they are doing so in public arena, to the harm of others, we may also need to address it publicly: first with them directly, if that is possible and practical, and secondly, on occasion, by public refutation. But here, I think, is where we have to be careful. I think that our public criticism should normally be limited to refuting each error, rather than labelling the person.
There are various, significant, risks underlying this distinction One is that our judgement may be inaccurate, partial, or just plain wrong: as noted above, we are not infallible. A second is that once we have proclaimed something publicly, we are more committed to it, and will tend to protect that judgement (both internally in our heads, and externally in the world) even should new evidence become apparent, or the person change his or her behaviour. A third is that such name-callling is less likely to provoke a metanoia in others (which we may claim is our intention) than to provoke a defensive reaction in which they dig into their position, and attack us. That is, of course, very satisfying, as it proves (to us at least) that our judgement was correct and they were beneath contempt…. and so it cycles on.
What was it Our Lord said about calling our brother a fool?
Thoughts for Lent from Father Willie Doyle (d. 1917) - “The path of life is rough and stony. Sharp flints and hidden thorns are thickly strewn upon its surface, wounding our weary feet as we toil ever onwards a...
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