“Wisdom is knowledge tempered with judgment” (Louis Ritchie-Calder).
THERE IS NO WAY TO AVOID THE MAKING OF JUDGMENTS. They are facts of life. We make them every day, from little judgments all the way up to very big ones. The challenge we face is not to avoid judgments, but to make them carefully and wisely.
To “judge” is simply to distinguish or make a difference. In a court of law, for example, a judge distinguishes between guilt and innocence, and between justice and injustice. But there are many other kinds of judgments that have to be made in life. As consumers, we have to judge between good products and bad ones. In the business world, we have to decide between productive policies and those that would be counterproductive. In entertainment, we have to decide between excellent performances and those that are inferior. And, of course, in the greater issues of life, we have to judge between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly.
Usually, our judgments are no better than our information. So before forming our judgments and making our distinctions, we need to acquire all the facts we can. The better informed we are, the better our judgments will be. This is especially important when our judgments involve other people, as they often do. Before I make a decision whether your character is good or bad, I need to look past first impressions and outward appearances. The real truth about you may take a little digging to find out — so before I judge the quality of your character, I need to check and double-check my information. Above all, I need to be fair and evenhanded: I must not judge you by a standard any stricter than those I am willing to be judged by myself.
Just as an art critic gets better at judging paintings by going to lots of museums, we get better at making judgments by exercising our powers of discernment over and over again. As we grow older, we find that making useful distinctions gets easier. And that’s good. Because in a mixed-up world, there are many things that have to be sorted out.
Grant to us, O Lord,
To know that which is worth knowing,
To love that which is worth loving.
Grant us with true judgment
To distinguish things that differ.
(Thomas à Kempis)