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What Is The Difference Between Discernment and Judgment?

I have often wondered what is the difference between “judgment” and “discernment.”

As I travel my spiritual journey, I have been given many tools to put into my tool belt to help me along the way. I have been told to “stick with the winners,” and “when you see someone who has what you want, do what they do.” Whether that be success in business or simply success in life – these are great paradigms to consider.

But where I have so many times gotten all tangled up is in this question, “How do I know who the winners are if I don’t judge them?” Maybe I find myself asking this question of myself, “How do I know within myself that I want what they have if I don’t make some kind of judgement as to their ethics or morals?”

I went to Dictionary.com to see what it provided as the definition to “judgement” and “discernment.” I have to say, it wasn’t much help at all in determining the difference between the two (as in both cases there were references to the other).

So I did some digging around to see if I couldn’t find some thoughts that others have provided on the question and here are several comments I found from several different sources that I am using for consideration:

1.) The basic rule of thumb that I use in telling the difference between the two in myself (that is, how I tell whether I am being judgmental or discerning), is how it feels. If I am essentially okay with allowing someone to be or do whatever it is they are doing, but I don’t want it to happen around me, that’s discernment. If I have some strong feelings about what they are doing, feelings that are associated with thoughts that label the other person as “wrong,” that’s making judgments about the other person.

2.) Labels seem to help separate the two for me. Perhaps the most destructive nature of labels is that they remove the humanness of the one being labeled. We no longer see them as an image bearer of God with a history; we see them as whatever we have decided people with that particular label are. If and when we use descriptions like Democrat, tea-party, Calvinist, open-theist, heretic, gay, straight, divorced, single, Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Protestant, fundamentalist, liberal, mega church, traditional church, old, young, etc, we must ask if we are trying to undercut someone’s credibility and vacate their humanness, or if we are genuinely trying to separate and discern ideas.

The only label God gives is “man” and “woman.” The practice of assigning labels is thus not apart of God’s dream for us, now or then. It was man’s rebellion that divided and fragmented the world. When we detect someone is approaching the gift of life differently than us, rather by a label of our choosing or their own, we should ask them questions about how they became who they are. This will lead to a much more fruitful, healthy engagement with your fellow man I do believe.”

3.) Discernment is the ability to tell the difference from and make appropriate choices based on sound criteria where being judgmental is assuming that those who you see as not meeting these criteria are therefore inferior and beneath you.

I believe that each of these comments bring a certain truth to the table and I am grateful that I am open to developing a definition for each of these words that works for me.

The one thing I do know for sure, I am simply not comfortable any longer with not having a firm separation between the two.

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