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The Benefit of Judgment


“Judge not, lest ye be judged.” 

—Matthew 7:1

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another. There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

We are in a strange moment in time—a period in which, for maybe the first time in human history, a portion of our culture has deemed good judgement a detriment to society. Before you agree with this notion, be aware that you’re part of the problem, no matter which side you think you’re on. So don’t cheer until you’ve heard me out. 

We are having a crisis of conscience, derived from a combination of failures, from our inability to distinguish fact from fiction on the one side, and our apparent aversion to judging our fellow citizens on the other. 

We’re not supposed to judge people, or so we are told, but then we can’t understand why someone would faithfully support a lazy, inept clown like Donald Trump. Simply put, our lack of judgement as a nation is threatening to be our undoing. 

On the more progressive end of the spectrum, the problem is our apparent unwillingness to be critical of anyone or anything. We have been told that we can’t talk about how someone looks, talks, acts, or thinks. Pluralism has turned into mediocrity.

One of my criticisms of church life growing up was this idea that in a church setting, everyone got to participate in leadership, like little league. There was a lot less desire for excellence, and a lot more interest in engagement. 

Let Fred lead the worship team. Who cares if he can’t sing and annoys everyone with his over-the-top off-off Broadway style of flamboyant yet oddly prudish demeanor. Let it slide that half the congregation shows up late to miss the 30 minutes of forced joy and torture standing. He loves it. He feels called. Besides, no one else wants to do it. 

If you’ve never been a part of an evangelical church because you’re too liberal or smart for that, don’t worry, you’ve experienced the same thing with your local activist group. Don’t get bogged down into trying to do a good job. No, it’s more important that everyone feels that have a say and have been heard. Everyone has a valid point, after all, because they showed up with an opinion. Do everything by committee. There are no bad ideas. 

We all know that’s the best way to achieve excellence. Do the thing that nobody hates, but no one loves, except the person whose idea it was. Handmade is way better than professionally crafted, after all, because it’s made with love.

A melting pot with no discernment or leadership is just swill.

It’s the difference between a well-crafted cocktail by an expert mixologist and whatever that was you made in junior high when you were pilfering your friend’s parent’s liquor cabinet and didn’t want anyone to notice. A little bit of everything, mixed with red Kool-aid, to ensure you’d think you were dying when you threw it up later, which you most certainly were going to be. Whiskey, gin, rum, Kahlua, vermouth and peppermint schnapps weren’t meant to be mixed together. A little judgement was called for. Experience matters. 

Today, with a generation coming of age who have never heard the word no, we are told that everyone is beautiful, that everyone is smart, that every opinion is valid, and we all get to be whoever we want to be. It’s not up to us to decide what is good or bad, what is right or wrong. It’s all a matter of opinion. 

Which is how we got to a place where half the country thinks a thrice-married billionaire with a track record of misogyny and corruption, who rose from privilege to reality television, exhibited every moral failing imaginable, was somehow sent by God to save America. This is how we get to the point where vaccines for a global pandemic are seen as a personal choice, not a collective effort, because Joan the beautician isn’t sure about science. 

I’d like to suggest that maybe a little judgement would have helped perhaps. The gift of discernment might have been an asset when we were making the decision on who to lead the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the planet. A little critical thinking would have been good. Perhaps. 

The criticism of the left, by the right, concerning participation trophies, and an overly sensitive culture, has some merit. But it’s not all or nothing. We don’t have to welcome open racism, misogyny, and bigotry to also not settle for mediocrity. We can be both great, and good. Professional, excellent, and kind. Truthful, and respectful. 

Most of the time, culture shifts of direction are like steering an aircraft carrier; small, almost imperceptible moves, that given enough space and time, can turn the ship 180° into the opposite direction. If you’re motoring along and you want to stop, it takes about five miles of serious effort, full reverse engines, to come to a complete stop. You’re not turning on a dime, or hitting the brakes. So we’re not going to change too much too quickly here either. If we wanted to stop right now, we would have had to make that decision five years ago. But if we are looking to the future we should think about starting to turn now. 

I think our lack of criticism and judgement as a culture, from parenting to work to politics, has become an indulgence we can no longer afford. Our lack of shame about anything has hit the far end of the pendulum swing, and it’s time it began moving back in the other direction. We need to be a little less individualistic and a little more community-minded, from how we dress on airplanes, to what we value in elected leaders. 

The reason everyone in Paris looks so good is that they dress for each other, not themselves. You get dressed to go to the store, not because it makes you feel good, but because it makes everyone else feel good. 

It’s time for America to give up our ridiculous cowboy philosophy, come in off the range, take a bath, and put on our Sunday best. Not because that’s what we want to do, but because it will make life better for everyone. America stinks and no one wants to be the one to tell us. Plus it’s probably time to admit that the gun, horse, and hat are all for show since it’s been years since your family had any cattle to speak of. 

All this talk about critical race theory, American history, and racism is just a symptom of the fact that we need to take a moment to allow for some introspection and analysis and realize we might not be living our best life after all. 

It’s time we stopped lying to ourselves. We need more judgement, not less. More critical thought, less magical thinking. 

It’s time for America to get off our high horse and look in the mirror. 

About the author

David Todd McCarty

David Todd McCarty is a writer, director, photographer and cinematographer. He writes fiction and nonfiction essays as well as journalism. You can see his commercial work at http://www.hoppingfrogstudios.com

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Writer | Journalist | Storyteller


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