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Judging Others Favorably

Judging Others Favorably

Giving people the benefit of the doubt applies to children too. In fact judging our children favorably is the most effective tool for teaching them this powerful commandment.

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Money is missing from your wallet. Your daughter says "I saw Josh take it out of your wallet." What are your immediate thoughts? Do you first give him the benefit of the doubt – maybe someone came collecting charity, or the paperboy came to be paid, or do you assume the worst?

Judging others favorably is a mitzvah. Instead of jumping to conclusions that your son is the culprit, look for possible positive explanations for the seemingly incorrect behavior.

Since we want others to give us the benefit of the doubt, we should try not to be quick to make negative judgments about our fellow humans and come up with "escape clauses" -- possible, reasonable, favorable explanations for their behavior. The Torah teaches that the way we behave toward others is the way that God will behave toward us.

THE FAIR FAMILY

The obligation to judge favorably applies to our children too. In fact, it applies first and foremost to the members of our family circle.

Fulfilling this commandment varies according to who is being judged. There are three categories to consider:

Category 1

The first category concerns a person who has demonstrated a good track record in the behavior that is being judged. For example, we may have a child who has always been honest. Now, at age 12, this child has been caught shoplifting. Since it is the child’s first offence, the parent should not think "What a little thief he is!" or "What an ingrate, after all we've done for him!" Don’t ignore his excellent track record. In this case, the Torah commands us to judge him favorably -- to search for good, reasonable explanations for his misbehavior, not farfetched excuses.

The parent could think that the child was suffering from undue peer pressure, or he was impulsive and not thinking about the consequences of his actions, or he just forgot to pay for the item, etc.

Positive judgment does not preclude taking action that will help the child to remember not to steal in the future. The parent can certainly create a logical consequence -- having the child write an apology to the store, do some community service, pay back the value of the item.

Category 2

The second category concerns a person who has a mixed track record. The child is generally honest, but who has been known on occasion to do some questionable things -- perhaps he's told small lies sometimes or he has taken small change found in the house without permission. Now he has been found shoplifting.

In this category, we are obligated to make a favorable judgment if it's fairly easy to do. There is no reason for us to assume the worst. Only in cases where it would be very difficult to come up with a positive explanation would we be exempt from judging favorably.

Category 3

If the child has a poor track record in this specific area, let’s say he’s been caught shoplifting twice before, we are not obligated to try to come up with positive explanations.

Nonetheless, if we choose to try to find a favorable judgment it is considered meritorious on our part.

Seeing the good does not preclude taking steps to discipline our children. Understanding that our son shoplifts because he may be suffering from very low self-esteem, or a biologically based impulse control problem, does not stop us from instituting punishment for this behavior. There is still an enormous difference between condemning the child as a no-good thief and trying to understand his behavior in the light of personal or physical challenges.

 

Published: June 3, 2000


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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Eliyahu Rosen, January 7, 2008 3:48 PM

Very informative article,

Great article. I used it to teach public school high schoolers about "Dan Lekaf Zechut." the categories and illustrative stories were really great for initiating a lively and interactive discussion with the whole group and making the whole concept more practical. Thanks!

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