COMMENTARY: Who Am I to Judge? – The Ethics of Moral Judgments 751.1

Almost every week someone indignantly attacks my integrity because I offended them with a real or perceived opinion they didn’t like. The underlying assumption is that stating an opinion on any controversial matter violates the sacred duty of neutrality.

First, I’m a teacher and a commentator, not a judge or journalist. Although I strive mightily to be objective, I don’t feel obligated to be neutral. Objectivity implies impartiality, detachment, and independence in evaluating evidence; it doesn’t preclude expressing judgment.

When I think my opinion might matter, I’ve criticized politicians of both parties; condemned shady business practices, racial prejudice, torture, and the denial of due process; and commended admirable words, actions, and moving events irrespective of political implications.

When I was young, I thought it was wrong to be judgmental, regardless of the issue. Later, I came across an observation by philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand who argued that nonjudgmentalness is an abdication of moral responsibility, an exchange of moral blank checks – I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me. Ultimately, I realized I couldn’t be a good father or effective teacher unless I made moral judgments. Now, making and encouraging you to make moral judgments is part of what I do.

But while there’s a responsibility to make moral judgments for ourselves, we need to be careful in deciding whether and when to express them.

For example, my primary goal is to prod you to deeper thinking; it’s not to persuade you to my way of thinking. I’d rather build bridges than walls. Thus, I usually keep my personal convictions to myself.

Before you express a moral judgment, therefore, ask yourself what you hope to accomplish and what you’re likely to accomplish.

My opinion: Whether we’re talking politics or instructing our kids, we should use restraint in expressing moral judgments. And we should do so in a way that promotes respect, reflection, and discourse rather than resentment, resistance, and disagreement. That’s not so easy.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 10

  1. I could not agree more. I think judging an event or action helps to build character and forces accountability in myself and others. I believe it’s what keeps people honest- that if I do the wrong thing people will perceive me differently. A society without judgment will create chaos.

  2. The so called “political correctness” that prevails robs people of the benefit of giving/receiving honest, healthy moral judgment and children from the opportunity to develop critical thinking. Yes restraint is necessary but even restraint must be restrained!

  3. This commentary could not have come at a more timely moment! I have been struggling about whether or not to ‘weigh in’ on a difficult situation, and your question of, ‘..what you hope to accomplish and what you’re likely to accomplish..,’ stopped me in my tracks!
    I am so glad you are still writing!

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  4. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). There is a righteous kind of judgment we are supposed to exercise—with careful discernment (John 7:24). When Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1), He was telling us not to judge hypocritically. Matthew 7:2-5 declares, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” What Jesus was condemning here was hypocritical, self-righteous judgments of others.
    In Matthew 7:2-5, Jesus warns against judging someone else for his sin when you yourself are sinning even worse. That is the kind of judging Jesus commanded us not to do. If a believer sees another believer sinning, it is his Christian duty to lovingly and respectfully confront the person with his sin (Matthew 18:15-17). This is not judging, but rather pointing out the truth in hope—and with the ultimate goal—of bringing repentance in the other person (James 5:20) and restoration to the fellowship. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are to proclaim what God’s Word says about sin. 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” We are to “judge” sin, but always with the goal of presenting the solution for sin and its consequences—the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

  5. Hello Michael,

    I hope all is well with you and your family. I have missed seeing, talking and working with you.

    Thank you for your vision, passion, leadership and the contributions you have made and are making in the field of character and work ethic development.

    Through your commentaries you are able to clearly articulate ethical and rational positions on topics that affect our lives. You are able to get people to think and this is the first step in personal growth and action.

    You may be at a point where you are faced with the decision of where do you go from here in regard to your role with JIE. I have been and am concerned about this also for very few people can bring what you bring to the table and the work of JIE is so pioneering and far reaching.

    Your commentaries are critically important to establishing a foundation of ethical decision making and reaching people across the United States and the world. Each of us has a place of service and every day we must model the role of ethical living. Many times we are the only example of what should be that others see. Your commentaries help us to stand strong on the front lines where the battle for ethical living is occuring. Your clarity of writing, thought and presentation of a situation helps us to know we are not alone and to stay true to our course.

    Michael, I thank you for being you and giving of yourself as you do. It may be time for you to make some changes in your workload, but I encourage you to continue your commentaries. Through them so much is being and can be done.

    Please tell everyone hello and that I believe in them and the mission of JIE.

    Thank you Michael,

  6. Your writing speaks to my inner struggles and gives me great insight. I’ll second that thank you for continuing to write. To listen and understand is hard. To listen, understand and continue to disagree respectfully or stand your ground is even harder.

  7. Michael – Never sharing a moral judgement or offering an opinion or calling out bad actions means people never put themselves on the line where they could be criticized, or engage in a deeper conversation. Unfortunately, most people prefer this, for those like you that share engaging thought and accept contradictory opinions, you are far and few between. An absence of individuals like yourself who encourage us to re-think our decisions and our affect on our communities, families and general responsibility to our fellow man, results some of the challenges we face today – markets collapsing, wars being waged and corporate greed over common sense. Thank you for judging our moral compass and sharing your opinions!

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