I grew up playing sports where the winner was determined by which team scored the most points. That was all that mattered – scoring one more point than your opponent. And although I watched sports on TV that were “judged,” such as figure skating or gymnastics, it wasn’t until recently I began feeling uneasy about that scoring model.
My daughter, a dancer since she was four years old, has been participating in competitive dance for the last four years. Now in high school, more than ever, she has been feeling the burden of trying to be perfect on the dance floor. As a father and Christian, it is hard for me to see her battle with a quest for perfection when I know only He is perfect, and my daughter was uniquely and perfectly made as she is – warts and all.
I have become increasingly uncomfortable with individuals participating in contests that are judged-especially youth. I do not believe judgement is healthy or rooted in Christian morality. In basketball, for example, you can have an “ugly win.” Though not your best performance and certainly not perfect, you can still win the game. And while human error or bias can have some impact on the outing of a football game (e.g. referees), the final winner is almost always determined by points scored and not a judge’s interpretation. Now, I am fully aware that in sports like dance athletes are earning points, and points determine the winner. However, the points are awarded by people-who are only human after all-and we are naïve to think that judges do not have preferences of dance styles, artistry, or coaches. Just the other day during a Winter Olympics’ snowboard competition, where points are awarded for the tricks the athletes perform, analysts shared dismay at some of the decisions of the judges. Snowboarders are not flying fifteen feet into the air to put a ball into a net; they do so with the hope and expectation the trick will earn them points from a judge.
What about outside of sports? Dare I say judgement is rampant in society today. During a recent dinner table conversation, my two high school children told me in no uncertain terms, “To survive in high school you need to judge and be judged. That’s just how it works.” The extent to which they are willing to tolerate the judging determines which extracurricular activities they join, who their friends are, and what values & beliefs they share publicly. The same is true for adults. Though we may not always share our judgements aloud, aren’t we constantly judging what other people say, do, wear, and believe? And often we judge others for things they have zero control over such as the color of their skin or physical disability. Why is that? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Are we intolerant and unaccepting? Do we believe we are better than everyone else? Are we just lazy, and stereotypes help us to be more efficient at categorizing information? Or have we simply lost sight of fundamental human decency? We, as a culture, cannot even seem to ask basic questions of one another without judging. “Why did you dye your hair that color?” “Why did you do the assignment that way?” “What were you thinking?” We are so accustomed to being judged we hear the tone of criticism in most questions asked of us.
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
In large part, I believe, the problem rests in comparison. Not only is “comparison the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt once said, comparison robs us of our God-given gifts of faith, hope, and love. When I was a teenager, my grandmother compared me and my accomplishments to her sister’s grandson. I was always hearing about him and what he had done. I felt like I was at most a disappointment and at least needed to brag on myself more (not a strong suit of mine). Today, we have social media. In an instant, we can see what family and friends are up to and how their lives appear so much more exciting and rewarding than ours. And when we see others who look, act, or talk different from us by comparison, we judge them. We say things like, “I would never let my daughter wear that.” Or, “How can they afford such a nice vacation? They must have a lot of credit card debt.”
And so, I challenge myself and ask you to join me. Can we compare less and be more tolerant? Can we talk with a tone of empathy and acceptance rather than criticism? Can we love our authentic selves and not fall prisoner to the judgement of others? Can we be merciful and assume the best in others? And can we agree that differences are a source of strength, excellence, and prosperity when working towards a common good? And if we can, wouldn’t we be earning the highest scores? You be the judge.