Using History to "Judge" Someone's Character

For the past few days, we’ve been exploring a case-study about character assassinating, get caught up before reading today’s post.

Too often we will character assassinate a person because we’re feeling hurt as a result of our pasts, and not a result of our past history with that specific person.

Our goal, our ideal, is to treat a person in accordance with who they have proven to be over the course of time. One moment, one action, does not make a person. It does not define their character and it does not describe the totality of who they are.

And yet, how often will one action, one moment, one situation, cause us to doubt everything? He (or she, or whatever) isn’t who I thought he was, we might say.

So let’s just start here, because this may just be a new idea. One action alone cannot erase a person’s entire history. If a person has proven to be reliable, trustworthy, dependable, honest, upstanding, generous, and kind, and they have one bad moment where they act mean and nasty, this doesn’t mean they were secretly mean and nasty that whole time. It means they had a bad moment.

Everyone has bad moments. We all lose our heads from time to time. The fact that someone’s head flies off does not mean that their character is substantially different from what you thought. It’s much more likely to mean they’re tired, stressed, or distracted. Perhaps they are grieving silently.

Who knows? That’s the point. Who knows?

Better than Jesus?

I set up a time to chat with my pastor friend and quickly learned the following:  his daughter was not in treatment, he had sent her out of state to “visit” her grandparents and she was terrorizing them with her out-of-control behavior.  He was still deeply concerned about losing his job.



“So what part of this do you want feedback on?”  I asked.


“What should I do about my job?”  he countered.


“You know, I have more resources that might be helpful to your daughter than I have experience about your job security,” I replied.


“I cannot think about that until I stop obsessing about this job thing,” he confessed.


“Ok,” I said.  I decided to start where he was, not where I wished him to be.


And this is a principle that my family crackup is teaching me.  We have to be realistic about where each of us is in life; it is a waste of time to think otherwise.  I wanted this dad to be strong and brave and loving and willing to go to any lengths to help his kid. He wanted that as well, but in the moment, he was distracted with his crisis of conscious about how he had handled previous situations as a leader and the implications of applying those same principles to himself.  I can judge him for this (my perceived lack of proper priorities) or I can try to be helpful. Helpful is in my core value wheelhouse; judging is not.


My teammate and son, Scott, has a philosophy of ministry he refers to as “assessing tolerance.”  What Scott means, I think, is that Scott wants us to consciously exercise both discernment and wisdom when listening to grieving, traumatized people who need to make hard calls.  Before a meeting with a suffering family, he often reminds me that part of our work is to assess how much “truth” a family can tolerate before we bring out the howitzer of information we have acquired and shoot them with it.  I wish I understood this perspective decades ago. I wish I had paid more attention when people I love taught me that we were on vastly different pages as it related to our core values. I wish I had acquired more acceptance AND more detachment - it would have saved us all a lot of trauma.  I have a principle for days when I wish I had known stuff that I did not - I remind myself: when we know better, we do better. Look, here is the skinny on this: I really did want to judge this dad for his priorities. I thought he should get his kid to rehab first and manage the fallout second.  But if I push my agenda, then I won’t be available to maybe have a chance with helping with rehab. Instead, I took a deep cleansing breath and tried to help him with the issue that holds his attention. This is what it looks like to assess tolerance, put your big girl pants on, lay down your weapons and try to serve.