Getting Others Wrong

IMG_6914 I write this from the air, aftet an overnight stopover in London. (The picture to the left is from Szolnok, though.) I have been thinking more about how people get others wrong–how they pass incorrect (but self-assured) judgment on each other. To the person being judged, this can be bewildering: What ever led this person to this incorrect conclusion (and to the surety)? The problem lies, I think, in the surety itself, the idea that one can know who another is.

One of my favorite stories is Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing,” which has everything to do with this. When the characters find themselves wrong, something opens up for them, something that allows them to bear what has happened.

Even the people we have known for years cannot be contained in our knowledge; there is more to them, and less to our knowledge, than we tend to realize.

This does not mean that we must all like each other, befriend each other, or speak each other’s praises. But even in criticism, even in distance, there can be recognition of the unknown.

I have said this, or something like it, many times before. It comes back again and again because of the language of derision that has been taking over (on the internet, in political life, and elsewhere). It is one thing to criticize a person’s specific actions or work (certain kinds of criticism can help people see their own and others’ work more clearly); it us another to claim to sum a person up.

Then, when groups gather together to sum others up, when they belittle others together, they make such belittlement the norm, the starting point. It gets more dangerous from there.

Now, actions are a different matter; often these have to be judged. In court, a defendant is found guilty or not guilty (with respect to an alleged crime); the truth may be more complicated than the judgment, but the judgment must take place. The people involved must be willing to take all the testimony and evidence into account yet still arrive at a decision. I once served on the jury for a murder trial and took this as a serious responsibility. I think we arrived at a fair verdict.

But when it comes to judging a person, any judgment, no matter how fine-tuned, will be at least slightly wrong. The human walks away from the summary. I can’t summarize a cat; how am I to wrap up a human in pronouncements?


I took the first photo in Szolnok and the second in London. Also, I made a few edits to this piece after posting it. This is in part a response to the shooting in the synagogue in Pittsburgh–more responses still to come–but the overall topic has been on my mind for years.


Leave a comment


  1. Susan

     /  October 29, 2018

    Dianne, I am sensing your deep sadness regarding the state of affairs in the US. I am so sorry for the sadness, the unmitigated anger that permeates the US today. As a friend – a Canadian, it is hard to watch my friend in such pain.

    Your thought: “Even the people we have known for years cannot be contained in our knowledge; there is more to them, and less to our knowledge, than we always realize.” is a powerful. Thank you.

    As a Christian I am deeply concerned about how Christianity is being ‘lived out’ by some who claim the mantle but are behaving like they have no idea who Christ is. Yesterday in church our sermon dealt with judging others – it was a humbling reminder that no one has the right to judge another, other than God. One does not have to have an identified faith life to realize ‘he who is without sin, cast the first stone’ (John 8; 3-11)

    I pray that your time in the US will be peaceful.


    • Thank you, Susan, for these thoughts and words. I made a few small edits to the piece, for clarity, but the substance is the same. Judgment is a tricky matter. In some ways it’s unavoidable, but maybe it’s possible to judge and not judge at the same time: that is, to make necessary judgments but recognize their limitations and pitfalls.

  2. eirenaios

     /  November 1, 2018

    Your articles are like Picasso’s doves:

    or Schubert’s Landler:

    They come from another world, purified, soaring high on air, full of peace.
    Thank you for them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s