here comes the judge

As the story is told there were many splendid trees in the garden, and we were free to eat of all except one. As a species we have never been good with limitations. Why did Wisdom say not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What happens when we begin to sort people, places, and things into the boxes of good and evil? We set ourselves up as the adjudicators of right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable.

I remember when we decided we wanted to start our journey into parenthood. When I shared the decision with my mother, her immediate response was that I would have to stop working and stay at home. My response was given that two paychecks were becoming necessary to thrive in this world, quitting wasn’t an option and being a bread winner in addition to a parent was my only option. Once the baby arrived, my priorities changed. I couldn’t imagine going back to my job until I had secured someone whom I trusted to watch my daughter. I stayed home the school year my daughter was born, found a sitter and returned to work. But I felt torn in two. I cared about being a teacher, but I never felt happy dropping my daughter off while I went to work. When I found out I was expecting our second child, I decided to step off the cliff of uncertain financial stability to become a stay-at-home mom. Who was right? My mom? Me? What if both or neither of us was right?

Why do we feel the need to be right? The need to judge? The need to be the arbiter of truth? The judge of just and unjust? How many times a day do we form an opinion? And why do we so desperately cling to our opinions? Why do we state our choices as fact rather than preference? Why do we show no mercy when people make mistakes? Why do we not allow others to change their minds or allow them to change their opinions? Why do we insist that people be normal, that they adapt to us, that they change who they are so that we may remain comfortable in our assumptions? Growth depends on our willingness to be teachable. When we define others according to our judgment, we close ourselves off to all other possibilities. We seal the coffin so to speak on others and on ourselves. When we judge others and new ideas, we see the world in binary terms. The problem with black and white thinking is that we leave no room for shades of gray. There is only good (my way) and bad (the highway)…

… Black/White… Young/Old… Conservative/Liberal… Gay/Straight… Breastfeed/Bottle… Abled/Disabled… Protest/Silence… Short/Long… Hard worker/Lazy… Easy life/Hard life… College/Trade School… Mentally well/Mentally ill… Rich/Poor… Married/Unwed… Choosers/Beggars… Native/Immigrant… Citizen/Undocumented… Technology is a tool/Technology is a curse… Buy/Adopt… Educated/Uneducated… Prolife/Prochoice… No children/Many children… Forward thinking/Backward thinking… Progressive/Traditional… Back the Blue/Black Lives Matter… Christian/Non-Christian… Tough/Fragile… Healthy/Chronically Ill… Bless/Curse… Go to School/Home school… Permissive/Strict… On time/Late… Too slow/Too fast… Insiders/Outsiders… Buyers/Renters… Believers/Unbelievers… Private/Public… Skinny/Fat… Tall/Short… Guilty/Innocent… Segregation/Desegregation… Regular Ed/Special Ed… Millennials/Boomers… Masculine/Feminine… Threatening/Non-threatening…

The list goes on forever. 

Sometimes labeling and sorting is good. We know what happens when you try to wash reds with whites or put easy to shrink fabrics in the dryer. Outside the laundry room, sorting and labeling can get us in trouble. The next time I catch myself sorting and labeling people, I need to pause and reflect why I feel the need to label one side or the other as wrong or right. We make so many mistakes when we label. Part of loving another is allowing them to be different. Different is sometimes exhilarating, and sometimes scary. Let’s put down that fruit we were never meant to eat and allow others to be free to make their own choices. We are free to be you and me. We are not limited to binary decisions. Try both/and rather than either/or. Minds like parachutes work better when open. 

Last year I wrote about the need to let go of thoughts and patterns of behavior that no longer served me well. We must ask ourselves if labeling and sorting people is serving ourselves and others well. If it’s not, then we may want to consider letting that practice go.