ON EXERCISING JUDGMENT

A Ward Conference Talk

STERLING PARK WARD
ASHBURN, VA STAKE

By

D. Calvin Andrus
acadac@aol.com

15 October 2006


I. INTRODUCTION

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am speaking today by assignment from our stake president. In spite of this speaking assignment, I still sustain him. I have watched him up close and I know him to be inspired. I have benefited by following his counsel. He only had to ask me once to give this talk.

Let me begin my talk with a riddle. Please pay close attention. Even our primay children will have a chance to solve it. Here we go. Listen carefully.

Imagine you are in a race. You overtake or pass the person in the second position. What position are you now in? --PAUSE--

If you thought "the first position," you are absolutely wrong. If you overtake or pass the person in the second position, then you will be in the second position yourself. You must overtake the person in the first position to be in the first position.

Ok, let's try another one. Now that you know I am going to try and trick you, you will be on your guard not to make another mistake. Ready?

Imagine you are in a race. You overtake or pass the person in the last position. What position are you now in? --PAUSE--

If you thought "the second to last position," you are absolutely wrong. It is impossible to overtake the last person, because the definition of word "last" means there is no one behind them. The answer to the riddle is that it is impossible to overtake the last person in race, because you can't be behind the last person.

OK, we will try just one more riddle. All of the information to solve the riddle will be given in the riddle. Again, because you think I am trying to trick you, you will play extremely close attention so you don't get it wrong. OK?

Susie's father has five daughters.
  1. The first daughter's name is Na-Na. (if you want to cheat, you can write the names down)
  2. The second daughter's name is Ne-Ne.
  3. The third daughter's name is Ni-Ni.
  4. The fourth daughter's name is No-No.
What is the fifth daughter's name? --pause-- If you think the fifth daughter's name is Nu-Nu you are absolutely wrong. Here is the evidence. The first sentence of the riddle reads, "Susie's father has five daughters." Therefore, one of the daughters has to be named Martha, regardless of the names of the other daughters. The fifth daughter's name is Susie, not Nu-Nu.

Actually, this was not a riddle. There was no trick. I listed all five daughters names and asked you to perform the most simple task of remembering five names. I did not trick you, you fooled yourselves.

II. Judge Not

So why did nearly all of us get it wrong? Did we rush to judgment? Did we rush our way to a bad judgment? No, in fact, we reasoned our way to a bad judgment. Humans are particularly good at reasoning their way to bad judgment. Humans are very adept at pattern matching. Humans are constantly trying to make sense of the world by using known patterns to fill in the blank spaces. We create new knowledge where none exists. And, as in the case of Susie, we use this pattern matching ability to ignore known facts. This leads us to make lots of errors in judgment. We make these errors in judgment all the time and we don't know it. We don't know it because we generally do not have anyone to call us on our mistakes. Thus we live our lives believing we are exercising correct judgment, when in fact we are not. We are fooling ourselves on a regular basis.

This wouldn't be so bad, except that we behave based on our mistaken judgments. We argue with our loved ones thinking we are right, when we are actually wrong. How foolish. When we are in positions of authority, we begin to exercise unrighteous dominion, because we try to enforce our mistaken judgments on others. Thus, we create sad experiences for all those around us. (cf. D&C 121:39) How foolish.

The Savior taught us not to judge each other for good reason. (cf. Matt 7:1) He knew humans were hard-wired to make errors in judgment. This is why he suggested we had beams in our eyes. Our beams were so big, we couldn't even see Susie. (cf. Matt 7:3-5) By our nature, we humans cannot see clearly--even on simple tasks, like remembering five simple names. How much worse are we with complicated tasks, like trying to acertain the motivations of our loved ones' actions. Only the most ignorant and arrogant among us would dare to defy the Savior and stand in judgment of other people.

III. ONE WAY OUT

So what are we to do? How can we improve our chances of getting things right? Let me explore one way.

As most of you know, I was a foriegn policy analyst for the federal government for many years. Foreign policy analysts try to understand what foriegn governments and foreign non-state actors are doing and are planning to do. We then try to assess how that will impact the foreign policy of the United States. In short, we try to provide the highest quality information to those federal officials who are charged with making foreign policy decisions on behalf of the best interests of the American people.

Much of foreign policy analysis is like trying to solve riddles. We use pattern matching to fill in the blanks and make projections. Unfortunately for us, foreign governments and foreign non-state actors try to hide from the United States, what they are doing, and what they plan to do. They try to trick us in to believing things that aren't true. We know they are often trying to trick us, and so we spend lots of effort trying not to be fooled. We have elaborate processes to verify that when information comes in, it is good information. We have complex procedures to make sure that when we think we have solved these foreign policy riddles, we have not fooled ourselves. We spend billions of dollars and have thousands of people working on the problem of getting good information and making good assessments.

The community of federal foriegn policy analysts does a pretty good job for the American people. But, you know what? In spite of the billions of dollars and thousands of people, the foriegn policy analysts sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes they get it wrong very badly.

So, if the US government, with billions of dollars and thousands of people, can still get it wrong, what hope does a simple person, like you or me, have?

IV. A BETTER WAY OUT

As demonstrated at the begining of this talk, you and I alone cannot exercise correct judgment. This track record improves slightly when we have thousands of people spending billions of dollars. Nephi was right on when he taught that we are cursed if we trust our own judgment. He called the it "arm of flesh." (2 Ne 4:34) So we know what we should not trust: our own human judgment.

Is there no hope? Of course there is hope. This begs the question, "Then in whose judgment can we trust?" We almost always read Matthew's account of the Savior's saying, "Judge not that ye be not judged." Let me read for you John's slightly different take on this verse. It reads, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24)

Ahhh, so here is the key--righteous judgment. But what is that? Let's listen to what the prophet Mormon has to say (Moroni 7:15-19):

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.

We learn several important principles from this verse:

  1. that The Spirit knows good from evil, and can let us know the difference.
  2. that The Spirit is given, not for us to judge other people, but for us to judge our own intentions and our own actions.
  3. it is as plain as day, that if my intentions and my actions bring me and those around me closer to the celestial kingdom, then I am exercising righteous judgment. It is also as plain as day that if my intentions and actions take me and those around me further away from the celestial kingdom, then I am exercising unrighteous judgment.

Satan will try to trick us. He wants to us to focus on other people rather than ourselves. He will try to get us to judge other people rather than judge our own behavior. He will try and get us to use the flawed logic and wisdom of the world to make personal decisions, rather than relying on the Spirit. Satan will try and trick us into justifying our own unrighteous judgment and behavior by suggesting we judge and blame other people's bad behavior. Judging and blaming Eve did not work for Adam and it will not work for us.

We defend ourselves against Satan's tricks by living our lives so we have unfettered access to the Spirit. When the Spirit is our constant companion, we will be able to judge our own actions accurately. We will then be able to choose righteously. It is as plain as day.

V. THE END

To these things I bear my witness. In the sacred name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.



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