In Matthew it says, “Judge not that ye be not judged.”
Traditionally, this has been taught to mean that we shouldn’t judge others in order for them to not judge us. We do not want to be hypocritical of our fellow spiritual siblings just it case they return the same harsh standard to us. The verse is wise social instruction about relationships between people. However perhaps there is another view.
What if “Judge not that ye be not judged” is counsel to us to not praise or condemn our own thoughts and feelings? What if the commandment is about us not judging us? Re-translating King James: Judge not our neural impulses or imperfect memories that we be not judged erroneously by ourselves. What it is saying is that if we fixate on the thoughts, recollections or feelings that percolate constantly through our brains, we will become self-critical, self-adsorbed and self-justified.
Let’s suppose we have a thought of some dark moment from the past. We grab on to it, pop it into our emotional mouths and suck on it. We then swish the juices around relishing them, then swallow. We ingest the negativity of history. On the reverse side, we fixate on an event or achievement that makes us grander than we are. Arrogance becomes the flavor of the month. We judge ourselves and others by false standards created when one nerve generates and throws a spark at another nerve.
We feed ourselves on the morsels of memory that do not literally exist. Remembrances are retrieved from our mental archive and reconstructed in the present. Neither the cheers nor the boos are sounding right now. They exist in our heads, not our ears. Victory or defeat is merely previously excited neurons. Our failures or successes do not exist except in our mental repositories. They do not survive the passage of time unless we keep regurgitating them up in our minds much like some acidy meal or bygone desert.
Therefore, if we have a habit of judging these memories over and over we make them real. We then assess ourselves based on something that is over, done, kaput or imaginary. Hence the advice to judge not our feelings or interpretations of the past less we pick up on a negative or prideful theme and judge ourselves to be always our former self.
Mindfulness means we focus by letting go of the past. It is a practiced skill of concentrating in order to appreciate the here and now. Being present also increases gratitude as we pay attention to the wow around us. How can we seek after things of good report if we are always waiting to be put in the fourth quarter of a game that was whistled over a quarter of a century before? Are we all Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico?
There are those who hold a belief in the eternal progress of the soul. Yet, how is it possible to evolve if our spirits are anchored in the past? Conversion occurs in the present. It is now we make decisions to learn and change. Today we grow. We exercise agency now. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow never comes.
Judging then comes in two separate actions like the couplet of Matthew. They reinforce each other. The more we judge the more we become like the judgment. The first must halt before we can arrest the second. The more we judge others the more we compare ourselves to them. Pride is a disorder of this comparison.
Judging not that ye be not judged does not mean excusing evil. Bad is bad. However, our reaction to the evil should not be a response created by our successes and failures. Others are not bad because we are good.
Judge not that ye be not judged. Judge not our fleeting brain excitations so we will not be judged incorrectly. Righteous judgment should be the only acceptable verdict.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.