Central park is famous (infamous to some) for its horse-drawn carriages. Depending on your point of view, they are either a romantic reminder of time gone by, or a graphic illustration of man's cruelty to beasts of burden. I tend to the former opinion, but to each his own. In an effort to keep the horses from getting distracted by yellow cabs and pedestrians they are fitted with "winkers" - small leather plates that prevent them from looking behind or to the side, keeping them focused on the route to follow.
In the emergency department we are faced with constant distraction: illness, crisis and pain accompanied by fear, emotion, and irrationality. Our response often requires quick assessments and decisions. That can come with pitfalls: initial judgments may in the long run prove incorrect. Every emergency room nurse and physician is familiar with the "frequent flier" who comes several times a week with some complaint or another; in our haste we may discount their complaints based on historical histrionics. Sometimes that backfires, and I am sure nurses and physicians can recall such instances. Nonetheless, we are called daily to make judgments on based on both objective and subjective data; it is part and parcel of the job. Circumstances can distract us, color our decisions, and keep us off track. We learn quickly to rely on one another, our experience, and knowledge to keep focused, and most of the time, we do make accurate judgments.
Whether a nurse, a police officer, a mom at home, or a worker on the line, we are faced with a need to make judgments every day, all day. Without good judgment distractions easily pull us off track. I am well aware that in Christian circles the word "judgment" carries a certain stigma, and rightfully so - to a point. Jesus commands us, "Stop judging, that you may not be judged" (Mt 7:1); but what did He mean? Was Jesus promoting a sort of "moral relativism" in which we had to refrain from any evaluation of behaviors, circumstances or situations? Was he asking us to ignore the world around us, adrift and completely entrusted to providence?
Matthew 7:5-6 help to better explain Jesus’ position: “You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.” He asks us not to arrogantly, prejudicially judge, placing undue burdens, while hypocritically denying the “wooden beam” in our own eyes. And how does one recognize the swine and dogs we must protect the holy from? Judgment. Pure and simple.
Some judgments must be made instantly; when safety and security are at stake haste is necessary. Most judgments, though, benefit from careful thought and prayer. Our Mother Church is a great example of this: her careful consideration and prayer reflects the role of the Holy Spirit and the weight of her pronouncements. She does not acquiesce to public opinion or fads.
For you and I quick judgments are necessary at times: a man whose home and family are threatened rightly pursues all avenues to prevent offending persons from exercising that threat; he may not be aware of the childhood trevails of the offender, nor his poverty, nor his pain, but he is acutely aware that his family is in danger and must act. A mother who recognizes that the behaviors of a young man approaching her daughter are inconsistent with her purity rightly ends the relationship if able; she is not aware that he may have been abused, has been unloved by parents, or is a boy scout, and no matter. She does what she must do to protect her daughter.
Other judgments must be “weighed, prayed, and remade”. We carefully weigh the consequences, pray for guidance and discernment, and remake our judgments if the situation warrants. It is in these circumstances that we evaluate the fruits of our decisions, in the light of the teachings of the Church and of Scripture. A wise guide / spiritual director / mentor can help.
Do not fear making judgments, but do have a healthy respect for the weight of them. We are judged by our own criteria, as Jesus has made clear. Make judgments based on love, with the guidance of the Church and the Holy Spirit, and consistent with mercy – not only for the circumstances, but for those in it. Avoid the distractions of the world, the power of prejudice and the lure of popular opinion. Stay true to the vocation God has given you, whether as son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, priest or sister. Remember that those God has given you are your priority. Most of all, pray, pray, pray.
And keep the winkers off. You might pass a knish cart at Columbus Circle and not even know it.