I’ve been thinking lately about judgmentalism and how it depletes happiness in life. And then I saw an episode of Happy Days. I’m old enough to remember when that show first hit the airwaves in the 1970s. You probably know something about that 1950s-era, Milwaukee-based show. Richie, Potsie, Ralph, Fonzie and all the gang. And everybody’s favorite mom and dad: Howard and Marion Cunningham.
What the Audience Didn’t Know
On this particular episode, Howard (played by Tom Bosley) and Marion were in a couples’ bowling tournament when Marion pulled up lame with a bad back. They needed a female substitute to bowl with Howard, so they settled on the attractive “Fern Flagg”, who worked at their bank. The studio audience predictably was suspicious of Fern. The audience collectively held their breath when Howard and Fern could have gotten too close, and they applauded with glee when Howard stood his ground against Fern’s illegitimate advances, closing the episode by kissing his television wife, Marion, in a declaration of marital fidelity.
But here’s what the studio audience didn’t know: “Fern Flagg” was in real life Patricia Carr-Bosley, Tom Bosley’s wife! Think about it. If the studio audience had all of the facts (and if they could have distanced themselves emotionally from the make-believe show) they would have applauded Fern’s advances and gasped when Howard kissed Marion!
We’re All Audience Members
And that’s the problem with judgmentalism: we don’t have all of the facts when we categorize and label people. The Bible makes it clear that we can and should declare sinful behavior (especially our own) to be wrong and detrimental. It also makes it clear that we’re never to assume ourselves to be morally superior, which devalues others and feeds pride. Our mission is to reconcile one another—broken people—to God. Jesus put it this way:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
From One Judgemental Person to Another
I am by nature a judgmental person. I size situations up quickly and I’m quick to label and categorize. In these days I’m learning to see humanity as broken and I’m striving to soften any sense of moral superiority or insight. Those of us in the studio audience are working with a limited knowledge base. We don’t have all the facts. The Apostle Paul wrote, Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (I Corinthians 4:5). On balance, I think that leads to happier days.