I just want to say how nice it is when people don’t. Judge, that is. I know this one is obvious, and yet it isn’t. We all judge. We have to. There are billions of decisions to make each day, from the tiny and utterly unimportant (which sock should put on first, the left or the right?) to the life-changing and essential ones. (Which city should I live in? Which person should I marry? Where should my kids go to school?) Those decisions require us to judge – to decide not only our preferences but also our opinions of other people and their preferences.
So, we judge – and sometimes, we only have a few minutes to make our opinion. What? That person talks slowly, stutters, and takes a long time to figure out what to say? She’s probably not very bright. This other one reacted with a smile and asked “can I help you”. He’s likely to be a kind person. Here’s someone yelling and throwing things – she’s an aggressive person with difficulties controlling herself. We have to make these decisions, because if I need assistance, I’m more likely to go to the smiling person asking “can I help you?” than the person throwing things or the one stuttering. Of course, we can be wrong. Maybe the stutterer is an autistic genius, the person saying “can I help you” is smiling because he can see you’re weak and he wants to take advantage of you, and the person throwing things is angry at a criminal who just stole your purse. Still, we need to make decisions and we do.
That’s expected – although for the parent of the brilliant but stuttering child or the aggressive but justice oriented child, it can be utterly heart-breaking. There are many people who decide such children are slow or bad, when actually they’re lovely people who just have different ways of doing things. Often, these people are teachers or advocates for the child, and their decision has huge life changing effects on the child’s future. It’s hard when a kid is dumped into a “bad kids” classroom (by whatever name one is sugar-coating it these days), or kept out of certain programs. It’s hard when teachers expect less from a kid or other kids tease and ignore. It’s hard when there are no aids or supports that would make it possible for the child’s actual brilliance and caring to shine through.
So, when one finds a person who doesn’t judge harshly, who wears rose-coloured glasses and sees us all as good people, it’s pretty special. Such a person assumes that the stutterer is a brilliant kid who needs help with speech and that the supposed bully is someone kind who needs clear routines and limits and guidelines. (Of course, the other kids around need to be kept safe – that goes without saying. There is just more than one way to accomplish that.) Such a person finds a way to include everyone and bring those traits out. Even if the bully is mean, she probably has a nice streak somewhere – most kids do. Even if a child is delayed in an area, there is probably something he can excel at – most kids can. Such a person is a treasure, a true mensch, someone who sees people the way that God intended us to see them. Of course this person is acting according to some of the better tenets of Judaism. In the Pirke Avot, Rabbi Joshua ben Perachya is quoted as saying: “…judge everyone favorably.” Maimonides, explains: each person is believed to have goodness within them, and anyone who judges is obliged to look for that goodness. Teachers and religious leaders judge.
So, it’s a blessing when they don’t, or rather, when they judge everyone favourably. My kids can occasionally require a great deal of favourable judgement. I have kids who could be described on alternate days (and as alternate kids) as sweet or nasty, super-slow or super-fast, brilliant or struggling with learning, friendly or anti-social. When I find a community where my kids can fit in, it’s a god-send. I am so happy to say that the Jewish community has been there again and again. In two different Shuls (yay, Temple Iyr HaMelech in Kingston and Temple Emmanu-El Beth Shalom in Montreal) and counting have my little ones been accepted, included and welcomed. There, I have rarely had to face that heartbreaking moment when I know as a parent that my children have been judged, and harshly at that. There are schools on both sides of the judgement question. There are afterschool activities on both sides. (Again, yay, for amazing piano teachers.)
I am nowhere near that much of a mensch. In my head, I form opinions about the children I teach and the strengths they can bring to the table. The best I can do is apply a filter between my brain and my mouth. However, I’m sure some of those opinions show! I try. I make a concerted, daily effort to judge everyone as good. This has ended me up in some bizarre and rather fascinating situations, in fact, but I have never regretted it. It’s a character trait worth developing, and one that, when I see it in others, is worth admiring.