Growing up, there was a girl in my neighborhood that I just could not stand.
I was only 13 years old at the time and I thought her best friends were weird, her hobbies were weird, her favorite shows were weird. To 13-year-old me, she was just... weird.
But she happened to know one of my best friends so we inadvertently ended up being around each other a lot.
At first, I was super standoffish. She was, in my mind, too weird for me to want to be associated with.
I never made fun of her or bullied her. I was just a classic, stuck-up teenager.
But this girl was not.
This girl was always super nice to me. She never acted offended when I acted poorly toward her and she tried to make sure I felt included in whatever we were doing.
Eventually, I realized that I was the one who was weird. I was being super judgmental toward this girl who was only ever nice to me.
As I went from middle to high school to college, she remained one of my best friends. I had completely misjudged her at first, and it had almost cost me one of the best friendships I had ever had.
Whenever I look back on my friendship with this girl, I think of all the other opportunities I could have missed because I was quick to judge what I saw and slow to understand it.
I also realize that it can be extremely difficult to find or follow correct judgment. On one hand, I've heard that we have to judge others so that we can decide what influences we need to let into or keep out of our lives. On the other hand, I've heard that we should never judge each other at all.
So what have the leaders of the Church said about this?
As Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the Seventy said in his April 2010 general conference address "Developing Good Judgment and Not Judging Others,"
"We live in a world in which many situations require us to make judgments that are often difficult. Yet the Savior gave the commandment to 'judge not' our fellowman. How can we do this and still exercise good judgment in a world full of deception and corruption? We must judge well when making critical decisions in each phase of our life, such as choosing friends, finding an eternal companion, or choosing an occupation that will allow us to care for our family and serve the Lord. Although the Savior asked us not to judge others, He still expects us to use excellent judgment."
Elder Schwitzer goes on in his talk to provide four guides for developing good judgment while refraining from gossip or judgemental attitudes.
1. First, put your own personal standards in alignment with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's April 2012 talk "The Merciful Obtain Mercy," he gives potent advice for judging others—"stop it."
Even though it may seem perfectly justifiable to sneak a little judgmental comment here and there, even one off-hand comment or thought can be destructive.
While I was attending a sacrament meeting with my cousin, I heard a talk from a woman that showed how damaging it can be when others do not refrain from judgmental comments or gossip.
When she was a teenager this woman and her family moved to a different state. They were very excited about sharing the gospel in their new community. But some of the members in their ward were not quite as zealous when it came to sharing the gospel.
Instead, some members of their ward ridiculed, gossiped, and openly shared judgmental comments about this girl's family to the point where every single member of her family contemplated inactivity in the Church.
But, even though it was very difficult, they all stayed active. Not only did they keep going to Church, but this family also committed themselves to refrain from making judgemental comments about those who were gossiping about their family.
While there have been times in my life where I have felt wronged, or when a member of my family was wronged, and I was hurt and just wanted to dish out judgmental comments to those who made me or my family hurt, that's not how the gospel works.
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As President Uchtdorf says in his talk:
"Jesus said it is easy to love those who love us; even the wicked can do that. But Jesus Christ taught a higher law. His words echo through the centuries and are meant for us today. They are meant for all who desire to be His disciples. They are meant for you and me: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.'”
Though it may feel incredibly difficult to "stop it" when it comes to judgmental remarks, we can become better for it. As President N. Eldon Tanner quoted in his talk, "Judge not, that ye be not judged,"
"Regardless of our ego, our pride, or our feeling of insecurity, our lives would be happier, we would be contributing more to social welfare and the happiness of others, if we would love one another, forgive one another, repent of our wrongdoings, and judge not."
2. Listen to the messages of the living prophet.
During the General Relief Society Meeting for the October 2010 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson shared a short story about a married couple, John and Lisa, in his "Charity Never Faileth" talk.
According to President Monson's talk, Lisa looked up one morning and noticed that her neighbor's laundry, hung out on a line to dry, looked dirty.
Every time she noticed her neighbor's laundry, she would make disparaging remarks about how her neighbor just didn't know how to get her clothes clean.
Until one morning she noticed a change.
"A few weeks later Lisa was surprised to glance out her window and see a nice, clean wash hanging in her neighbor’s yard. She said to her husband, 'Look, John—she’s finally learned how to wash correctly! I wonder how she did it.'
John replied, 'Well, dear, I have the answer for you. You’ll be interested to know that I got up early this morning and washed our windows!'"
President Monson went on to say that no one is perfect and we need to be careful to follow the Savior's advice to "judge not" (Matthew 7:1).
But this is not always easy.
In his April 2009 general conference talk "May You Have Courage," President Monson also said it may even take courage to refrain from judging others.
"Oh, you may ask, 'Does this really take courage?' And I would reply that I believe there are many times when refraining from judgment—or gossip or criticism, which are certainly akin to judgment—takes an act of courage."
I agree with President Monson. It does take courage to be the one who walks away from gossip. It does take courage to change judgmental attitudes. But as Elder Schwitzer says in his talk, "Each general conference and Church magazine contains advice from the prophets which, if applied, will lead us to good judgment. We are left without excuse when we ignore them."
3. Cultivate with the Holy Spirit a relationship of listening.
In another talk given at the April 1972 general conference, "Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged," President N. Eldon Tanner mentions the story of when the Old Testament prophet Samuel was guided by the Lord to choose the next king of Isreal, David.
When Samuel looked at David's older brother Eliab he thought he had found the next king for sure. But then he got this message from the Lord, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).
After meeting with seven of Jesse's sons, Samuel met David, the youngest, and was guided to choose him to become the next king of Isreal.
As President Tanner said in his talk, "The reason, therefore, that we cannot judge is obvious. We cannot see what is in the heart. We do not know motives, although we impute motives to every action we see. They may be pure while we think they are improper."
Instead of relying solely on our own judgment, we should do as Samuel did and trust in the spirit to guide us to the correct decision, especially with important, personal matters.
As Elder Schwitzer says in his talk, "We are given the gift of the Holy Ghost after our baptism, but often we leave this gift on the shelf, forgetting that He will help us in the most important judgments of our lives. The Lord gave us this gift, knowing we would face difficult decisions in life. Listening to this voice is vital in developing good judgment."
4. Keep the commandments.
Finally, Elder Schwitzer advised members to keep the commandments because "the willingness to keep God’s commandments opens to us many promised blessings."
As the leaders of the Church have addressed the topic of judging others, they mention the commandment to love one another with a particular frequency.
And it is no wonder they do, for as President Uchtdorf said in his talk "The Merciful Obtain Mercy," loving others can help dispell judgmental attitudes.
"When our hearts are filled with the love of God, something good and pure happens to us. We 'keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.'
"The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions—the more we allow our love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the pure love of Christ. As we open our hearts to the glowing dawn of the love of God, the darkness and cold of animosity and envy will eventually fade."
And when we don't love others, it can be easier for judgmental thoughts and attitudes to creep into our lives. As President Monson said in his talk "Charity Never Faileth,"
"Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who worked among the poor in India most of her life, spoke this profound truth: 'If you judge people, you have no time to love them.' The Savior has admonished, 'This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.' I ask: can we love one another, as the Savior has commanded, if we judge each other? And I answer—with Mother Teresa: no, we cannot."
When I think back on my experience with my friend I wish that I had not judged her. Luckily, she was not like me. She followed these guidelines set by Church leaders better than I did. Even though I was a harsh judge of her actions, she never once judged mine.
I still feel like judging others is a tricky topic, but luckily the leaders of the Church have outlined and testified of the way we can refrain from judging others while still making excellent judgments for what we want in life.