Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. [Matthew 7:1-2 (NLT)]
There’s a classic Peanuts comic (drawn by Charles Schulz) that shows meek Linus questioning Lucy, “Why are you always so anxious to criticize me?” His bossy big sister answers: “I just think I have a knack for seeing other peoples’ faults.” Dropping his blanket, Linus asks, “What about your own faults?” to which Lucy replies, “I have a knack for overlooking them.” Among other things, Lucy has what psychologists call “fundamental attribution error.”
Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to judge other people differently than how we judge ourselves. We attribute other peoples’ flawed behavior to shortcomings in their character (dispositional attribution) and ours to the challenges of our situation (situational attribution). For example, when someone else spills his coffee, it’s because he was careless but, when we do, it’s because the barista didn’t put the lid on tight. When a car speeds past us in traffic, the driver is a jerk but, when we exceed the speed limit, it’s because we’re late for an important appointment. Our neighbor’s angry outburst is evidence of a character flaw but our temper tantrum is because of the extreme pressure at work. Unfortunately, we often attribute other people’s actions to their disposition (they’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, or foolish) rather than consider that their behavior, just like ours, could also be linked to their circumstances. Although we know our story, we don’t know the stories of others. Perhaps the person who spilled the coffee has Parkinson’s, the speeder was on his way to the hospital, or the neighbor’s spouse just filed for divorce.
Without reading further than Jesus’s first words in Matthew 7, people often misinterpret the passage. “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged,” Jesus doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge. He doesn’t want us to suspend our critical thinking or be so open-minded that our brains fall out! Wanting us to use discernment in our dealings with people, He tells us that the same standard we use in judging others will be applied to us. The literal translation for this verse is: “for in what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged, and in what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you.” If I measure you in fractions of an inch, I can’t measure myself in yards! If I judge your actions by your nature, I must judge mine the same way. If I explain or justify my actions by my circumstances, I must consider that circumstances may also explain or justify yours.
Even if you didn’t hurry home after school to watch Dark Shadows, you probably know that vampires can’t see their reflections in the mirror. While we may not sleep in coffins during the day, there’s a little bit of vampire in us when it comes to seeing ourselves in a mirror. Like Lucy, we often judge other people harshly but rationalize our own behavior to make it excusable. Jesus, however, tells us to take a good hard look at ourselves and deal with our own faults before we start judging other people.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Deal with the faults of others as gently as your own.” While that’s good advice, Jesus tells us to deal with our own faults before we begin to deal with anyone else’s.
It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own. You can‘t clear your own fields while you’re counting the rocks on your neighbor’s farm. [Cicero]