We all know people who presume to know what is going on in our lives and feel a need to “fix it” for us. They always have the perfect solution to all of our problems. I’m often amused that those who always have the “perfect fix” for me are the ones who have more problems than me—but then, maybe that’s my own perception, presumption, and judgment.
The following story is perfectly fictional, but illustrates my point.
Jack has a learning disability. He doesn’t tell his friends about it because he doesn’t want to be treated any differently from anyone else in his circle of friends. His wife, Jill, is sworn to secrecy about the issue. Jack’s learning disability has caused him to lose several jobs because he isn’t able to concentrate and has trouble multi-tasking. He needs a good job to support his growing family, and those jobs require concentration and multi-tasking that tax Jack’s capabilities. Jack doesn’t tell his family and friends that he has been let go from these jobs. He prefers to tell people that he quits jobs because they are lame, or working conditions are poor. Jack’s family and friends begin to make judgments that Jack is lazy, a poor provider, and that he neglects his family.
One day Jill receives a letter from Martha, a family member, encouraging her to divorce her lazy husband so she can have a better life for herself and children. Jill is devastated, but she can’t even defend her husband because she has promised to keep his secret. Even if she does break the confidence, she feels that Martha and others would not understand because they have never faced a similar problem in their own lives and cannot relate. (This may or may not be true in every instance, but for the sake of this story, let’s assume it to be true.) To make matters worse, Martha is someone who Jill loves very much. Jill has made her own judgments about Martha’s life, but has kept silent for many years because she didn’t want to hurt her.
By presuming to know what goes on in the lives of our family and friends, we make judgments—judgments that can hurt. Some of us have this need to solve every problem that comes around, whether it is our own problem or one belonging to someone else. Sometimes we try to solve problems that don’t exist except in our own heads. Most of the time, if we looked within our own lives, we would find bigger problems to solve—you know, the ones we are avoiding or pretending don’t exist.
It is the way of the natural man to make judgments. We know we are not supposed to do it, but we all do it. When we recognize that we have made a judgment, there may be something productive that we can do. Let’s go back and look at Jack, Jill, and Martha.
Martha has obviously made a judgment. Martha is smart enough to realize that she’s made a judgment, but she also knows that when we make judgments, they are not always correct. Martha analyzes what she wants the end result to be for Jill. She wants Jill to be happy. All she wants to do is to help Jill because she loves her. She recognizes that Jill’s relationship with Jack is none of her business. Martha decides to take a step back, tears up the letter, and begins anew. This time the letter is one of support. Martha does some research and finds a company that is hiring in Jack’s field. She sends the information to Jill so that Jack can apply for the job.
I’ve made some judgments about people sometimes, and for that I’m not proud. I’ve handled those judgments badly sometimes, and I’m not proud of that either. The longer I live, the more I realize that we never know what is going on in the lives of others. I’ve been very hurt by some who have made judgments about me, my life, and my intentions or motives. Most of the time, the judgments are way off base. As judgments are made about me, I try to stand back and remember that those who are making the judgments don’t have a clue about what is really going on. I also try to remember that it is my responsibility to forgive.
Let’s go back to Jill, assuming that she receives the first letter. Jill has choices to make. She is obviously going to be hurt. She can take that hurt and fire back a letter to Martha. Remember that Jill has also made judgments about Martha’s life over the years which she has kept to herself. Jill now has the “opportunity” to redeem herself and her marriage to Jack by pointing out to Martha every single judgment she has made about Martha’s life. Jill begins to write that letter. One paragraph in, she realizes that it will solve nothing and, in fact, itwill make matters worse. She tears up the letter and gives her heart a chance to heal.
Healing from such hurt is not easy. I suspect that Jill will be working on this for a long time. Jill now has one more problem added to her husband’s lack of work and her need to feed her children. Jill knows that the longer it takes to forgive Martha, the longer they both will be hurting. Priorities dictate that she feed her children first, so all her efforts must go into helping her husband find a job. Meanwhile, the hurt festers and clouds relationships. Martha’s attempt to “help” Jill has resulted in adding to her sorrow.
So now let’s imagine that Jill receives Martha’s second letter with the contact information of a company who is hiring in Jack’s field.
Jill reads the letter with excitement and gratitude. She passes on the information to her husband, and Jack applies for the job. Whether or not Jack gets the job, Jill feels supported and loved by her family, and Martha feels good about her attempt to help Jill. Jill can concentrate on helping Jack with the job search without the added burden of trying to forgive Martha for making judgments and saying hurtful things.
Let’s now assume that Jill doesn’t tear up her letter to Martha. Jill’s letter to Martha states her view that Martha’s daughter would not have resorted to taking drugs if Martha had spent more quality time with the daughter in her teenage years. She says that Martha was clueless about what her children were doing in their teenage years, and that if she had opened her eyes, she could have kept them on the right track and from making bad choices. Martha reads the letter in horror. She becomes very angry with Jill because Jill has no idea what she’s talking about. Jill doesn’t know that Martha was dealing with a serious illness during that time that kept her bedridden. Martha’s children felt abandoned by their mother, and guilty for their feelings.
Again, perceptions and judgments are not all they are stacked up to be. We never know what is going on in the lives of others around us.