Anyone who has ever been misjudged—and who hasn’t?—will appreciate this instruction from the book of Leviticus: “Always judge people fairly” (Leviticus 19:15). Jewish tradition takes this ideal a step further by speaking of the obligation to “judge others favorably.” Perhaps it is no surprise that Jewish rabbis developed this teaching, given the long history of persecution and discrimination their people have suffered.
Most of the judgments we make against others happen in fairly mundane circumstances. Imagine, for instance, that you’re at a middle-school event and your son is talking to a friend. You’ve noticed that the friend’s shoelaces are untied, so you mention it, expecting the boy to bend down and tie them. But he just smiles and keeps on talking. Even though his mother is standing nearby, she says nothing. What’s wrong with her? you wonder. Doesn’t she care if he trips and falls?
If you had been a Jewish woman, steeped in that ethical tradition, you might have stopped yourself from making the negative judgment. Instead, you would have reminded yourself that this boy is a good kid from a good home. Though you can’t fathom why his mother doesn’t act as you would expect her to, you acknowledge that she may have a good reason for her silence.
Now consider the mother of the boy who won’t tie his shoes. Having heard the woman’s suggestion, she senses her son’s embarrassment. She knows he won’t bend down to tie his shoes because he can’t. Her son suffers from cerebral palsy, which makes tying his own shoes a challenging task to master. But his condition is so mild that most people don’t even realize he has a problem. Of course his mother cares whether he trips over his shoelaces, but she keeps quiet so as not to embarrass her son further.
Sound far-fetched? This is what happened to a friend of mine. How much more peaceful would our lives become if we could make a habit of tilting our brains in a positive direction, judging others favorably until there is definite evidence that we should not?