Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Discernment and Comparison

Judgment: One of those words that can be used to describe any number of situations and circumstances from any number of people. The dictionary has six different meaning ascribed to the word.
First, it can be "a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion."
Second, "A formal decision given by a court."
Third, "the final judging of humankind by God."
Fourth, "The process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing."
Fifth, "Discernment."
Sixth, “A proposition stating something believed or asserted.”

I've been thinking a lot about judgment lately. My church has been reading through the Bible this year. We started in September, and this week we finished Numbers. It's not one of those books that gets a lot of attention, but in the midst of the lists and censuses and the sacrifices, there's a lot of judgment.

It's difficult to not make judgments of others. Sometimes it's necessary. My job is based on my ability to create opportunities to "judge" every student's learning, as the “authoritative opinion.” But what about the times where I’m not definition one, what about when I’m definition four—just forming an opinion by discerning and comparing? What different words discerning and comparing are. Such different connotations.

There are so many situations in life that require judgment: who to marry, when to cross the road, whether to buy a house, who to trust, what to study, where to work. These would fall under definition five. We begin observing the process of discernment as small children and practice regularly as we age. In the end, however, it seems that judging has become a negative thing. “Judge not lest you be judged,” the sacred text reminds.

And so I’m back at definition four…wondering at what point my analysis of those around me is fruitful, and when it is merely destructive. I get lost in a silent argument seeking whether the source of my judgment is comparison rooted in my competitive nature, or whether it is discernment concerned about consequences of careless actions.

The Israelites judged often: their situation, their leaders, their provisions, their future, their God. And those that judged died before they entered the promise land; that was their judgment. And I suppose that’s what I should fear in my comparisons, in my conviction of others by the jury of my mind: missing the Promised Land.

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