Archive for the problems of judgment Category

When I was a kid, our peace on evenings and weekends was often disturbed by a ringing phone.  My father did, among other things, plumbing and heating and appliance repair.  And so if a furnace went out or a water pipe sprung a leak, we’d get a call.

Most of these calls have blurred together in my memory.   One, however, though it was something like 40 years ago now, I remember the short call, and its aftermath, as if it were yesterday. After my telling him that Dad was not home, the caller said, simply, “Have him call Joe Jones [not real name].  It’s urgent.”  When my Dad got home later that evening, and I told him of the call, he said something rather uncomplimentary and, rather emphatically, went back to what he was doing and did not call the man back.

This was unusual, even extraordinary.   Dad invariably called people right back, even when he knew it might be something unpleasant on the other end of the line.

And Joe Jones wasn’t anyone I knew or even heard of before.  Living in a rural village as I did, I generally recognized the name at least of almost every evening caller.   And most of the time, I had at least a youngster’s notion of which people pleased or annoyed my parents.  But this Jones guy, I’d never heard his name before.  Or after.

All I know is, he and my Dad didn’t agree on the definition of “urgent.”

Covey and others have pointed out how toxic and counterproductive the urgent can be in our lives.  Much better than I can.

But why is it, do you suppose, we keep getting trapped by our notions of urgent?  Why is it, do you suppose, we so seldom treat the urgency of the Joe Joneses of the world the way my father did that evening?  Why was it that my father’ refusal that time was his exception rather than his rule?

Because, if you think about it, most stuff that we claim as urgent really isn’t.

Oh, sure, when a furnace goes out on a below-zero January evening, that’s pretty urgent.  When floodwaters are rising, putting off filling sandbags for an hour is a bad idea.

But for most of the stuff we ask of others, if you think about it, hoy, mañana, it really makes little difference.

Somewhere in the mess that is my house I have a cassette of someone, Ted Hughes perhaps, reading T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.  As with that forty-years-past phone call, one line from the reading sticks in my mind, that refrain from “A Game of Chess.”

“Hurry up, please, it’s time!”

No.  It isn’t.

“Urgent.”  It really should be a four-letter word.


[The following is something I posted this morning on the PackerChatters blog.  I'm reposting it here for two reasons.  First, and obviously, because I think it's important and worth saying more than once.  Second because while by the rules of that board any extended "religious" discussion is verboten (and, in my opinion, rightly so), my feeling is that there may be one or more people there who might want a forum to do so.]

One unfortunate consequence of the Internet and its enabling of cheap information transmission is that it allows us to practice certain sins in public that normally only get practiced in the privacy of our minds.   Sins of thought.

No, I’m not talking about pornography.

I’m talking about the kind of sins that, when we do take them public, we encourage each other to do the same.  The kind that our very doing of them rationalizes in the minds of others their imitation.  The kind that, whenever one of us commits them, we increase each other’s propensity to do the same.

No, I’m not talking about Michael Vick’s offenses against dogs.

I’m talking about the sins of the person who publicly uttered the following on the pages of PackerChatters yesterday.

Michael Vick before he entered prison was a despicable human being, an abuser of innocents. One I wouldn’t want to be associated with, and one which I wouldn’t want anywhere near the Green and Gold. If upon his release from prison he is still a despicable human being, I still wouldn’t want anything to do with him.

Were he sufficently repentant, were I convinced that he were no longer a despicable human being, I would like to think that I could and would change my position. But merely because he served his time? Not a chance.

I’m posting this response to my own post, and risking the ire of Larry and the mods for violating the “no religion” rule, because I find I must.  For few words that I have put out onto the Web in recent months have bothered me more after the fact than this paragraph.  And in particular the three word phrase I used thrice, “despicable human being.”

I believed then, and still believe now, that Michael Vick has acted despicably.  But there is a difference between labelling an act as despicable and labelling the committer of those acts as a despicable human being.  One speaks to the morality of particular choices.  The other speaks to the moral essence of a person.

And, as a Christian, I ought not be doing the latter.  As Jesus is quoted in Matthew 7:1, I ought not to be judging the character of my fellow man, for in so doing I violate the greatest of His commandments.  I arrogate to myself something that is the province of God, and God alone.  Or, if you want to take the “Christian theology” bit away, I commit an offense against the nature of our humanness by ignoring my inability to comprehend it.  As one of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning, once put it, “No one at this table has ever seen a motive.  Therefore, we cannot suspect what inspired the action of another.”   We are, all of us, guessing when we speak of the moral character of Michael Vick, Brett Favre, Ted Thompson, or each other.

And when I make such a judgment publicly, as I did above, I’m legitimating the practice.  I’m encouraging each of you to the same.  I’m giving you license to surrender to the temptation to judge.

Think about it.  Be honest.  How many of you, when you read my words originally, reacted with your own moral judgment of someone else’s character.  Perhaps you judged Michael Vick’s character, thinking something along the lines of “Yes, he is a despicable human being.”  Perhaps you judged mine:  “What a goody-goody, moralizing prig that Iowa is.”  Perhaps you judged an abstract class of people like “football stars” or “black athletes” or “sanctimonious Christians.”

I’m betting that, many of you succumbed to the temptation, the temptation that my words put out there for you.  Yes, I know, you’re still responsible for your own choices to succumb, and for the path you follow afterwards (whether you make your own judgment public or not, e.g.), but I am responsible, too.

Because, much as I might like it otherwise, words of judgment uttered publicly are not “just words”.  That they are uttered on a sports bulletin board where others daily do the same does not excuse my doing so.  My words still have moral consequences, and I should not forget that.   Incitement to riot is an offense.

As a Christian, I ought to have known better.  I should have remembered that it is not my job to judge Michael Vick’s essential character any more than it was the Pharisees job to judge the essential character of tax collectors, prostitutes, and the other social outcasts that Jesus loves.

Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.

I know some of you may find this “Christian” stuff of mine offensive and inappropriate to the board. (And perhaps those who wish to discuss or debate or flame the “religious” part of this, instead of doing so here, do so by coming to my own blog at, where I’ll be posting this comment as well.)

I am hoping that the moderators will tolerate this crossing the line of mine.  But I will understand if they do not.  For I find cannot apologize for doing so, nor can I promise never to do so again. While do not believe I need to disclose all my private sins publicly, it is different when the sin in question has been a public one.  Then, for good or ill, I feel I must.

As another Christian once put it,  “Hier stehe ich.  Ich Kann nicht anders.  Gott helf mir.”

All content of this blog, except comments added under names other than "Wade," are copyright © 2008, 2009 Wade E. Shilts