Judging Others by Our Own Personal Experiences

bethany 2013-001

Those of us immunized from the Christian “thou shalt not judge” virus know that making judgments are a part of our every day life.  Many Evangelical Christians love to parrot Matthew 7:1:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

This verse is often hurled at me when an Evangelical reads something I have written that they disagree with. Lost on them is the fact that I don’t govern myself by the Bible. Also lost on them is the fact that they are misinterpreting the Bible. Matthew 7:2-5 says:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Notice what the rest of the text says:

  • By what measure you judge you will be judged
  • We should judge ourselves first (beam in our eye) before judging others (cast the mote out of their eye)

We all make numerous judgments each and every day. Every time I write a blog post, I am asking readers to make a judgment on what I have written. Even from an evolutionary perspective, making judgments are crucially important to us. A gut feeling, a first impression, both of which are mechanisms we use to judge danger and safety, are crucial to our survival. One of the first lessons I taught my children (and Polly) was to pay attention to their surroundings. When Polly is in the store parking lot at night and there is a man standing near her car, I want her to pay attention to the man and make a judgment about him. Too many people end up assaulted or harmed in some other way because they don’t pay attention to their surroundings.

Every day people read this blog for the first time. Most often, they come the The Way Forward via a search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo or following a link from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or Google+.  For example, every day, new readers come to this blog after searching for, “is it a sin for a man to have long hair?” Or they might be searching for, “pastors who are now atheists.” Once here, they may read just for a moment or they might linger a bit and read some of my other posts. Sometimes, they will park for hours, reading dozens of blog posts. In each of these examples, the person is making a judgment about my writing and me personally.

One of the difficulties humans have when judging, is doing so without allowing our biases and personal experiences to color or distort our judgments. Let me state very clearly, there is no such thing as an unbiased person. Any time a person tells me that they are making an objective, unbiased, neutral judgment, I know that they don’t understand themselves very well.  It is important that we be self-aware, that we understand our biases and how our personal experiences color our thinking and judgments. These experiences don’t invalidate our judgments, but we need to be aware of them, so we can take them into account when we make a judgment.

Often, if we have broad experience with a subject, our experiences reach what I call expert level. Wannbe Evangelical philosophers love to say that I am “appealing to authority” when I speak authoritatively about Evangelicalism. However, a person’s training and experiences can reach such a point that they ARE an authority on a given subject. I am often amused and frustrated by Evangelicals who think my long years in the Evangelical church, as a member and as a pastor, along with my training, does not qualify me to be an authority on Evangelicalism. While I certainly do not know everything there is to know about Evangelicalism, I know more about it than most Americans. Not bragging, just the facts.

But, even as an authority, as an expert, I must guard against my personal experiences coloring or distorting my judgments. I know my experiences have an emotional component and my emotions can cause me to see things wrongly and lead me to make an errant judgment.  Staying humble goes a long way in keeping us from becoming a know-it-all, arrogant authority figure.

My youngest daughter recently sent me a link to a story  about a woman who is designing and making clothing for people with Down Syndrome. People with Down Syndrome are quite short, tend to have short arms and legs, and have a big butt. They also tend to be overweight. It is often very hard to find clothes for them that fit.

As many of you know, our oldest daughter Bethany has Down Syndrome. She has been a nightmare to buy clothing for, especially once she reached puberty. Years ago, we bought her a winter coat and Polly had to cut six inches off the sleeves so it would fit. Our youngest daughter, who recently graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in Fashion Marketing and Design, does a good bit of sewing for Bethany. It is not uncommon for her to cut 3-6 inches off the legs of a pair of pants. Bethany is definitely a custom fit clothing job.

Many people with Down Syndrome are overweight. The reasons for this are many:

  • Many people with Down Syndrome have heart problems (Bethany does)
  • Many people with Down Syndrome have thyroid problems (Bethany does)
  • As people with Down Syndrome age they tend to become sedentary
  • People with Down Syndrome often have physical disabilities that keep them from being able to exercise

And yes, some people with Down Syndrome are overweight because they are lazy or their care providers don’t monitor their diet. (many care providers are in their 50’s and 60’s because the risk of having a child with Down Syndrome increases as a woman ages. I employed one 25-year-old Down Syndrome adult whose Mom was 75 years old)

Bruce, I thought this post is about judging others. It is…bear with me. On the website I mentioned above, a commenter left the following comment:

Your intentions are good but the real problem needs to be addressed. I am a parent of two DS kids, have a DS brother and I am a special educator for nearly 30 years. It isn’t a DS issue. It is an issue of allowing our DS kids to be overweight through poor diet. Both my kids have normal weights because we monitor their diet closely as we do ours. Because of this we do not need special clothing for our kids. Look at the three pictures of the older models above. These are a perfect depiction of the real problem.

This is a perfect example of a person ignoring the many reasons why a person with Down Syndrome might be overweight and judging everyone with Down Syndrome by their personal experiences with people who have Down’s.  Everyone of us must be careful to not let our personal experiences cloud or corrupt our thinking when we make judgments about others, beliefs, businesses, products, services ,etc.

When I had my hand surgery done last year, I spent a fair bit of time investigating the surgeon. I talked to my family physician and several nurses who worked with the surgeon. I did a web search for his name and found out about his personal history. I also found ONE web review that said the surgeon almost killed her and left her crippled for life. I considered all of the evidence and decided to let him do the surgery. But what about the woman who said he crippled her? Isn’t that a warning? No, because I know any time a surgeon touches a person there could be a bad outcome. I have a friend who is severely crippled and debilitated all because a good doctor made a mistake.  Years ago, my family physician missed the fact that I had mononucleosis and I almost died as a result. Did his error make him a bad/incompetent doctor? Of course not. People make mistakes, and when doctor’s make mistakes sometimes people die. Now if I had found numerous negative reviews, THEN I might have considered having a different surgeon do the surgery.

I do a lot of shopping online and this requires me to read product reviews. If you have done any amount of shopping online, you know how varied and frustrating product reviews can be. They are often like music or movie reviews. I try to ignore the fan boys and the one star this company is the worst company in the world reviews. I try to look for similarities in the reviews, both positive and negative. Generally, shopping this way serves me well.

Awhile back I wrote a scathing, negative post about Pandora. Is Pandora a bad company or do they provide an inferior music service? Of course not. They pissed me off and lost me as a customer. I know that most of their customers like/love their music streaming service and my judgment about Pandora is quite personal and subjective. I am just one customer with an axe to grind. No one should make a judgment based on my experience.

How about you? Do you think you do a good job accounting for your personal bias and experiences when making judgments? Is there anything else you would add to this post? Please leave your pithy thoughts in the comment section.


Huffington Post article on Karen Bowersox and her wonderful company Downs Designs.

Comments (7)

  1. Becky Rogers Wiren

    Now I am probably harder on Christians for having cold hearts, because they claim to love God and follow the Bible. I spoke with a minister today who said so many of them do have cold, unloving, unfeeling hearts. So when I know someone is a fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christian, I expect such behavior. My aunt is an exception and she is the exception to prove the rule. So I prejudge them, and then judge them extra harshly.

  2. Lynn

    This woman in your example believes that if everybody did what she does, they would have the same outcome that she gets. That can be very hurtful. People may or may not get the same results. There are so many other factors, but she presents it as being very simple and straightforward.

    I’ve seen this in health and weight-loss discussions. “A calorie is a calorie.” “If you don’t live a long life, it’s because you ate the wrong things and didn’t exercise.” They have this false idea that all these things can be controlled by simply doing the “right” things. It’s really ignorance and a need to feel in control, and many times it’s no desire to learn from someone who may actually know more about the subject than they do.

    I often have prejudices against various types of people. But I try to stay conscious of that inner idea and see them more as individuals who may be different from their stereotype. I know I don’t like Southern stereotypes used against me.

    Your example made my anger come up, because so many people truly believe that if you’re fat, it’s because you eat too much. My grand-daughter is living proof that that is not so. Also a pediatric endocrinologist wrote a book giving examples of overweight babies, asking why some of them are fat. It’s not from potato chips and watching TV. The point is it’s so much more complicated than that. My grand-daughter was born big and kept getting bigger. She weighs about seven pounds more than the average for her age. It’s simply the way her body works. Yet people probably assume she’s eating too much or the wrong things. That’s simply false.

  3. Ruth

    First, Bethany is beautiful!

    Secondly, I think we’re all guilty of biases by our own experiences. It’s hard not to be. Though, just because we think a thing does not mean it should come out of our mouths or the tips of our fingers. Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing.

    Good grief, the other day I saw someone using the term fat-skinny because a thin person had cellulite, implying that they were unhealthy because, while they were thin, they weren’t toned like a Victoria’s Secret model. Newsflash: people are different.

    1. Ruth

      Also, if a thin person is skinny-fat or fat-skinny because they have cellulite I guess that makes me just plain old fat-fat.

      1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

        I vaguely resemble fat-fat. :)

  4. Mary Ellen

    Bethany is beautiful…I love that red hair…

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      When we are out in public and people ask Bethany where she got her red hair she will point to Dad. :) They look at me and try to figure it out since my hair isn’t red any more. I tell them I once was a flaming redheaded man. The red has long since faded away. (like most things)


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