Don’t judge, compare, or try to fix others

Israel means: “Struggle with God”

A young rabbi friend of mine once praised me, suggesting that my ongoing contemplations about God, given that I’m an adult in my forties, are a testament to my relationship with God. My back-and-forth struggle with the concept (even though I lean more towards doubt than belief), as he framed it, is better than the apathy of many (most?) adults who don’t much think about the issue at all.

Of course, to an extent, these are heartening words, just as my friend intended them to be. The idea is nice, right? My relationship with God is more real and relevant to me than it may be for so many others. I’m so especially spiritually sensitive and attune, you see.

However, that conversation of ours and that statement of his in particular continue running through my mind, and I find that they grate on me. The more I reflect upon this idea, the more uncomfortable I become with the sentiment.

Providing spiritual care

One of my dearest friends studied chaplaincy under Rev. Landon Bogan, Director of the Center for Pastoral Education at Stanford Health Care; and she occasionally shares professional insights and experiences with me from her work in the field. Quite recently, this friend related a piece of wisdom to me from Rev. Bogan, which provided me with some clarity on my conversation with the young rabbi:

Don’t try to judge, don’t try to compare, and don’t try to fix when providing spiritual care.

-Rev. Landon Bogan

The rabbi’s bias

Fundamentally, my rabbi friend was not really hearing me.

For him, God’s existence is self-evident (I must note that this was not always the case… he deliberately worked to convince himself of this before committing himself to the rabbinate), and he asserts that it is more correct to believe in God and God’s presence in our lives than not to believe these things. Therefore, while he can relate to people who doubt God’s existence, sentience, concern, or involvement (as he did himself), he believes that any such doubts are misguided.

Now, my rabbi friend’s beliefs are not a problem in and of themselves. Not only do I think that it’s not unreasonable for intelligent people to believe in God; but I also don’t begrudge him the belief that nonbelievers are wrong. In fact, that makes total sense to me.

The issue is that my rabbi friend was judging, comparing, and attempting to “fix” me, rather than simply hear me. In fact, this reminds me of a piece of simple wisdom that I posted to this blog just recently:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

Henri Nouwen (1932 – 1996)

It may not come easily or naturally (certainly not for me!), but based upon my personal life experiences, I have come to conclude that providing others with needed emotional support demands of us that we learn how to compartmentalize. We must put ourselves and our most deeply held beliefs aside and attempt to understand the world through others’ eyes if we want to help them… And this is doubly true for spiritual care professionals.

  1. Contrary to Rev. Bogan’s teaching, my rabbi friend was judging me: ‘David holds false beliefs’ and ‘David seems open-minded enough to be convinced of faith statements that don’t seem unreasonable to him’;
  2. He was also comparing my faith journey and beliefs with his own, rather than listening to me as an individual: I’ve been where David is now theologically, and I’ve grown to hold different views’;
  3. And he left me feeling like he wanted to fix me by subtly guiding me towards a “correct” belief in God.

Simply put, the goal should never be to change someone, as much as we’d all feel more comfortable in a world full of others who share our beliefs.

Don’t draw comparisons – just listen.

P.S. Shabbat Shalom!

I’m offline for the Jewish Sabbath for ~25 hours from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. I look forward to reconnecting with you soon!

27 thoughts on “Don’t judge, compare, or try to fix others”

  1. Life is complex. People have to make their own decisions; it isn’t for others to fix people. It’s a passionate and difficult subject for me. I believe, and yet I can’t follow famous religious teachers and I have massive questions about suffering.

  2. I just was subjected to an attempted “fixing” in a spiritual group I’ve been attending lately. They preached one thing to me in the same breath as doing its exact opposite… and the worst of it is, that when I see them do it so clearly, I can see the ways that I too am guilty of it elsewhere… ugh! Progress for me is painful. ;))
    On the plus side, I learn from what they showed me, even if not from what they tell me… though I believe positive examples might be overall more beneficial. ;)) I love the way you write btw…. which for me is a positive example of clear thought and expression of feeling.

    1. and the worst of it is, that when I see them do it so clearly, I can see the ways that I too am guilty of it elsewhere… ugh!

      I’m right there with you, Lia! 100%

      I love the way you write btw…. which for me is a positive example of clear thought and expression of feeling.

      You’re very sweet to say so, Lia.


  3. I am going to repost and comment: a person’s beliefs are integral to who they are and the so called fixing will damage integrity. Psychology! If there is a deity then it calls or not as the case may be and we have free will to choose. I think your Rabbi thought “better to be safe than sorry”

  4. We all need to be heard. We all want others to listen. But the way humans are wired we are more concerned with formulating a response than hearing what we are being told. I like blogging for that very reason. I can read, digest, and then respond (if a response is even needed).

  5. What a beautiful quote from Nouwen and so true: I have been both the recipient of fixing and a fixer myself – it is the worst thing we can ever do (especially when people are grieving). His books are full of pearls of wisdom. He spent a lot of time caring for the intellectually disabled and what he shared about that time touched my heart so deeply – I think he learnt to slow and listen there.

    I am so sorry for the pain you experienced in that comment. I hope you are able to let your Rabbi friend know how deeply it hurt you and that he will listen. He needs to know that and learn and grow from it, so he doesn’t hurt more people.

    I have been cruel in similar ways without seeing I was being so – it deeply hurt my heart when my eyes opened to that. I am so thankful for the grace my husband especially has shown me in that as I am shedding my past thinking.

    BTW I am sorry if I have ever said hurtful things in comments here like that too. Please always be straight with me (I long to learn and grow: even if it’s painful 😂). I am having my brain rewired from years of religious thinking … so I know I still have a long way to go 😅.

  6. This is always good advice but not so easy to put into practice. Getting outside ourselves is difficult. And then actually really listening… (k)

  7. David, I agree that the rabbi was not listening to you – and – in reading, something else became clearer to me: the problem the rabbi has having ‘convinced himself g-o-d exists’: he has framed g-o-d within his reasoning. And THAT g-o-d can then logically only ever be dealt with by reasoning not being related to been in dialogue with as the Mystery they ARE. and so on so forth…

  8. Yes. It is hard to set aside our beliefs, but in order to hear what other people say, we must stop pre-judging them and just listen to their difference. Not easy. But it can be done with love and spiritual charity. Thank you for helping me to think these words. Sabbath peace be with you and rejoyce! WE survive another seven days!

  9. Compare, and don’t try to fix when providing spiritual care.

    -Rev. Landon Bogan
    Pretty wise and sound words of advice from Mr. Bogan here, no matter what faith you have or don’t have. 😁❤️👍 I’ve both experienced judgement from folk who should know better and been judgemental too as a result of the church I used to go to.

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