Judgment vs. Understanding

February 19th, 2014, 7pm

It was 25°C. The wind was calm.

Life decisions are never one-dimensional. Yet we often simplify the decisions others make to squash it into a context that’s easy to understand, because that’s human nature. The problem is that trying to make other peoples’ decisions fit into our own neatly-defined boxes of understanding leads to something that’s poisonous for the soul: judgment.

We hear about someone’s decision to quit their job, or move somewhere, or marry someone, or drink tea instead of coffee, and we judge. Oh, how we judge. I do it too. You know why? Because judging is so much easier than understanding. To judge someone all you need to do is ignore the complexity of their situation. But understanding takes time. It means we have to listen, get context, step out of our own world views. That’s a lot of work.

I write about this because our family recently decided to move to Portland, OR. Our plane leaves South Africa on March 30th. It’s easy to look into our lives from the outside and see the decision as centering around one specific issue. I hear words like career, quitting, finances, family, different values. But here’s the truth: It’s all of these things, and none of them. We didn’t make this decision lightly. It wasn’t rash, and it wasn’t based on a single factor. We don’t hate South Africa. Our moving isn’t some perverted statement or value judgement on those who choose to live here. We love Cape Town and have an amazing community here — one that we hope will remain in place forever.

We’re moving to Portland because when we step back from our lives and look at all the factors that make us a family, we’re convinced that it’s what we need to do.

That’s all there is to it, and of course that’s not a long enough paragraph to explain the complexity adequately, but I doubt any paragraph would be long enough to accomplish that. The simple fact is that most of us are the same people. We’re all just pilgrims in a strange land1, trying to do the best we can. So the next time someone does something you think is really stupid — pause. Ask yourself if you really understand the complexity of their situation. And if not, you owe it to yourself (and to them) to take the time and really listen.

Understanding is much harder than judgment. But doing hard things is the only way we grow.

  1. Hebrews 11:8-9 

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Rian van der Merwe

Family, design, coffee, and Oxford commas. On Twitter: https://twitter.com/rianvdm

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