Being Judgmental Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Being a Jerk

The Face I Make When I'm Judging You. Just Kidding.

The Face I Make When I’m Judging You. Just Kidding.

Friends like to tell stories when they get together. I consider myself a pretty good storyteller. Especially since I’ve made some cringe-worthy decisions in life and have also been “blessed” to know some pretty interesting characters along the way. Sharing life experiences, memories and the occasional odd habit or obsession is part of exposing a bit of who we are to people we’re attempting to amuse or to those whose opinions we care about.

But not all stories receive the desired reactions. Some people find a few of the things that come out of my mouth rather shocking, uncomfortable or even brow-furrowingly strange. Fair enough. I can be a bit of an odd duck. I get that. But sometimes, reactions to our revelations can be a callout creating that prickly sensation of being judged.

But in our current culture of non-judgment, I believe we are unwise to dismiss all reactions that are less than backslapping endorsements of any given behavior.

For example, years ago I was out at a local restaurant sipping wine with girlfriends. The banter was light and the laughter was loud. I ended up sharing a story about a relative who was collecting restaurant menus in order to use them in a decoupage backsplash in her kitchen. I thought the idea was brilliant and still dream of a kitchen wallpapered in eye-catching restaurant menus featuring dishes like dry-aged duck breast with Swiss chard and braunschweiger. But a friend, whom I believed at the time was missing the point of my story, said, “So your relative is a thief?”

Wait. What?

Well, yes. Technically she was pilfering restaurant menus. Slyly tucking them into her oversized bag after telling the server she wanted to hold onto it for a bit longer after ordering.

But hey! This woman is my relative. And the menus as wallpaper idea is brilliant. And all you can do is call out the minor fact that she was taking items that didn’t belong to her? Sheesh. How rude.

I truly was indignant.

But then, I let her comment sink in. Of course she was right. My relative was a thief. Worse yet, she never did complete that decoupage backsplash, which makes me sad.

But what I’m trying to say is, sometimes it’s completely appropriate for people, mostly friends, to call things as they are. To speak the truth in love.

Um, Thou shalt not steal and all that jazz.

Sadly, it seems most of us do not want to be called out on anything. We end up surrounded by like-minded folks who tend to support all of our behavior good or bad. People tend to think being a friend means supporting every action and decision. And if they don’t support us, or don’t feel supported by us, they simply slip out of our lives without saying much of anything at all.

I can be a lot like the truth-teller who called out my larcenous relative. If you tell me you cheat on your taxes or your spouse, I’m likely to wrinkle my nose. If you confide in me about some behavior that is unethical, immoral or illegal, it’s unlikely that I’ll say, “Good for you!”

Does this mean I’m judging you? I guess so. But not in the way portrayed in today’s culture as mean-spirited, close-minded or uncaring. If I work up the courage to call you out, it’s likely because I DO care about you. I’m not casting stones. And I’m mostly aware of the logs in my own eye. But If you’re my friend, I suspect you want me to be honest with you. That we should want to help each other become better people.

Sadly, this doesn’t always work out. In the course of a week I had one friend who’d become mostly MIA tell me she was spending less time with me because she didn’t like it when I called her out on her sh*t and another friend tell me that because I call her out on her sh*t is precisely why she likes hanging out with me.

It’s tough to know when you’re saying too much or not saying things in a way that a person can receive without feeling wounded. I mean, it’s not my goal in life to be a jerk. But if you’re making bad decisions, like stealing restaurant menus or just plain living in denial about the likely outcome from poor decisions, I cannot and probably should not let it slide. At the very least, I’ll likely make a face and then leave you alone. But do we really want to be left alone? Do we share sketchy things because we want others to be supportive or because we desire clarity–a friend to help point us toward something better?

Books like “Morrie: In His Own Words” by Morrie Schwartz and “The Road to Character” by David Brooks spotlight how individualism and the loss of a common moral language make it difficult to become who we’re meant to be. It’s also bad for society overall if we simply tolerate all manner of behavior without some guidepost of common virtue.

In the Christian faith, believers are called to be like Christ. That is a tall order for sure considering His sinless and sacrificial life. God gets that. He knows that we’ll always fall short, which is why believers like me could/should daily fall on our faces in gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness freely given.

But God has also put people in my life who live by example. People who are rightly shocked by questionable deeds and who gently point out self-destructive or just plain a**holely behavior. I’m grateful for these people. I’m also glad that at least a few people are grateful for me.


7 thoughts on “Being Judgmental Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Being a Jerk

  1. Jill Radabaugh says:

    Good friends sometimes have uncomfortable conversations and call each other out. I prefer honest relationships like this. Great article Angela.

  2. Rachel Symmank says:

    “If I work up the courage to call you out, it’s likely because I DO care about you. ” That makes sense. It’s not a popular take on judgmental these days. But it does, actually, make sense. If I didn’t have any moral standards and/or I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t take the time. Bravo, Mrs. Johnson! (BTW, who knew that judgmental doesn’t have an ‘e’ after the ‘g’ ?? Lifelong learner…that’s me!)

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