Judgement vs. Condemnation: What Gives Us the Right?

“Don’t judge me. You have no right to judge me.”

How many times have I heard this phrase uttered? I’m sure that the actual count would be astonishing. This statement seems to be the never-fail statement that many people retreat to when they feel that they have done something, often perceived as “wrong,” that would warrant judgement from others. In almost all the cases that I have encountered this phrase, a defensive and sometimes even hostile tone has been evident underneath it. But why would it be that such a defensive, hostile tone is present? Why do people often feel the need to retreat to such a statement? Are they correct in that others have no right to judge them? In order to assess these questions and try to answer them, it is first important to look at what judgment is.

Judgment is defined by Dictionary.com as “the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind.”

Based on its actual definition, it would seem that judgment is a simple thing that wouldn’t warrant those negative tones. One could even make the argument that judgment is simply a synonym for opinion. After all, much like opinion, it heavily relies on bringing together circumstances that are present to people in order to come to a conclusion, right?

So why then would judgment be perceived in such a negative way?

I believe that the issue therein lies in what often comes after judgment: condemnation.

Condemnation is also defined by Dictionary.com in the examination of the root word condemn, which is to pronounce to be guilty; sentence to punishment; to give grounds or reason for convicting or censuring.

Condemnation in and of itself is the act of basically taking the aforementioned judgement, or formation of opinion, and moving it a step further through action. Instead of only formulating an opinion through circumstances, people often take it a step further by deeming the persons being judged in black and white terms; good or bad; right or wrong; moral or immoral.

In my personal opinion, it seems that people respond so negatively to judgment because of the almost inevitable presence of condemnation after the judgment is reached. I think that condemnation affects them so negatively because of the widely perceived notion that everyone is equal. Condemnation violates this premise with the implication that the condemner is in a higher place than the condemned and thus able to make the condemnation, rendering everyone’s status as equal virtually nonexistent. I believe that the perception of condemners in this light, as people who think they are in such a position as to cast down their condemnation, is why people become so defensive when they feel they are about to be judged.

So we’ve answered two of our questions already, but what about that last one? Do people have the right to judge others?

In my opinion, I feel like we have a right to judge others, and we may only condemn others in special circumstances. Originally I felt like we couldn’t condemn others at all, but I then realized that there are certain instances where human morality takes precedence in the actions of some people and the immunity from condemnation is revoked.

I feel like we have the ability to judge others because of the fact that judgment fits the definition that I mentioned before; it’s simply the formation of opinion based on facts presented to us. I feel like a lack of judgment is simply foolish. Judgment can be an integral part to one’s safety. For example, if someone were to be walking down a dark alleyway at night and saw a shady figure in the alleyway, what would they do? If the person took a judgmental approach, they might look at the figure and judge that they shouldn’t walk this way. If the person took a non-judgmental approach, they very well could walk into a very unpleasant situation. In short, making judgment is wise, especially because it bears no harm to anyone. Judgment is a personal opinion and nothing more. It remains in the realm of one’s self and does not leave it. No matter what judgment that someone may cast on another, it is restricted to their own personal conscience and thus non-binding in any way shape or form.

Condemnation on the other hand reaches further out of the realm of one’s own being if that makes sense. Condemnation, as I mentioned before, implies that the condemner is in a higher place of authority. I feel that we as humans are all created equally and thus have no right to condemn others unless human morality as a whole is violated. I feel like there are certain principles that are just understood amongst humans, similar to the way that unalienable rights are understood. I think we have no right to restrict individuals to simple, generalized categories, which I feel is all that condemnation does. The classification of someone as good or bad, wrong or right, it’s not for us to decide unless human morality as a whole is violated in my opinion.

If we can’t condemn someone, then who can? And when is human morality violated to the point that we can condemn someone?

Obviously, based on my religion, my initial answer is God. However in an earthly perspective, this is where the government enters the picture. We obviously have a series of laws that govern us and determine the grounds upon which someone should be condemned. But that poses another question: what gives the government the right to condemn? Consent of the judged. The public that is under the control of the government should only be condemned by the government when the government is in power under the consent of the governed. In a democratic society such as ours, our system of condemnation is ethical because we submit ourselves willingly to this condemnation. The condemnation laid down by an authoritarian regime on the other hand and is unethical because the condemnation comes without the consent of the government.

Finally, we come to the big question I’ve struggled with: when is human morality and ethics violated to the point that we have the right to condemn? I feel that the only answer for this can come from concrete examples of times where universally, humans have agreed that condemnation is practical. For example, in the case of Hitler’s actions towards the Jewish people of Germany. The killing of so many people that Hitler condoned is widely viewed as wrong, and is obviously a huge violation of human morality, thus Hitler is widely condemned for this.

For quite some time, especially since I’ve been in college, I’ve struggled with the idea of judgment vs. condemnation. I’ve wondered when it’s okay and when it’s not. Reaching the conclusions that I’ve mentioned above this, I still find trouble determining when it’s okay to judge and if it’s ever okay to condemn. I often find myself having to catch myself before committing myself to such things I am against, and I’ve heard similar thoughts from friends of mine.

Despite what I feel about condemnation vs. judgment, I suppose it may just be in human nature to condemn each other. I’m sure that a large portion of the condemnation that exists in society stems from the individual values that people carry. Various religions and beliefs often lead to heightened senses of power and superiority. As a result, the equilibrium that I mentioned before is unbalanced in their eyes, and they have a right to judge and condemn others.

Do we really have the right to judge and condemn?

I suppose when it comes right down to it, the true answer therein lies in the person who has to answer the question. Much like our own destinies, I feel like we have the power to shape our own judgments and condemnations. Whether there is a force beyond us that actually has the power of condemnation over us is privy to our own condemnation in the end. We can choose to accept that, or we can choose to condemn that fact and make our own ways in life. Perhaps at this point I am rambling, so I will stop before I confuse myself more. Simply put, when it comes right down to it, the right to condemnation and judgment as well hinge specifically on what you personally value and what you think.

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