Judging Favorably

Discussion Forum

Living & Learning

LIVING
Challenge Scenario

Someone close to you has just made a cutting criticism of you, and it hurts. What do you do next that's better than a counterattack?

Guidelines:
  • Step 1:  Make peace with yourself. (Rabbi Marc Gopin). This means compassionately identifying and accepting your own strengths and weaknesses. Look at both career and relationships.
  • Step 2: “Arrive in your comrade’s place.” Explore their views, talk to them and draw them out, if safe; identify hurts or fears that could have triggered their criticism.
  • Step 3: Three action options: 1) Openly accept the criticism, and make amends; 2) openly reject, without anger; 3) decide to respond with negotiation or countering.
Your Experience

When have you given someone the benefit of the doubt? How did it work out? What lessons do you draw? When have you been suspicious, and not given the benefit of the doubt? Why? How did it work out?  

LEARNING

Judge every person in a favorable light.

Hebrew is literally, “Be judging every person to the pan of merit”—the pan of merit or innocence being one of the two pans in the scales of justice. A number of stories in Avot de-Rabbi Natan and the Talmud make clear what this means: we should try to construct interpretations of events that are favorable to the people involved and charitably interpret their intentions.

Does this rule mean that we always should judge everyone favorably? Maimonides wouldn’t go so far. In his commentary on this mishnah, he distinguishes three cases: If we don’t know a person’s reputation, we should judge him or her favorably. When we know the person has a good reputation, we should give him or her the benefit of the doubt, even if an action of his or hers looks bad. However, if the person has a bad reputation, we should not trust him or her to do right, even if his or her actions look good.

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Judge every person with the scale rated in his favor.

There was once a young girl who had been taken captive and two saintly folk went after her to ransom her. One of them entered the harlots’ apartment. When he came out he asked his companion: “What didst thou suspect me of?” The other replied: “Of finding out perhaps for how much money she is being held.” Said the first: “By the Temple service, so it was!” And he added: “Even as thou didst judge me with the scale weighted in my favor, so may the Holy One, blessed be He, judge thee with the scale weighted in thy favor” (ARN).

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