I think most people have been on the receiving end of a judgement made without the other party knowing the full story. Most people have probably been guilty of doing the same thing at one time or another. Many times there is not much on the line when we do this. We decide that the cashier is a really unfriendly person without knowing they just got reamed out by the customer before us. We leave without acting on it but have made a judgement nonetheless.
I find it particularly disconcerting, however, when there is a lot at stake and these judgements are made by people who are in a position of influence or even authority, particularly ones who consider themselves professional counselors.
I experienced this situation myself.
While separated from my husband and before I had decided we needed to put a moratorium on communication, I received a phone call from him. He was out to eat with a old friend of his family, a person who is a fairly well-known among conservative Christians in the eastern half of the U.S. (maybe even further west of the Mississippi, I don’t know). After being greeted by my husband, I found myself suddenly thrust into a conversation with his dinner-mate.
We chatted amiably for a moment before the grilling started. Suddenly, I was being interrogated as to what my intentions were, what I had done to cause issues in the marriage and how I had made them worse. Without being prepared to answer these questions I stammered out a few responses and tried to make him see that he did not have a full understanding of the situation. I got off the phone as graciously and respectfully and as quickly as I possibly could. I got off the phone, shaking.
Not only had I been blind-sided, I was blind-sided by a man who on his website claims to have spent “35 years counseling and discipling others.” I have never heard of this counseling technique before and I am not sure there was anything particularly helpful about it, at least not for me. For my husband there was validation. He later told me in an email:
When I told him you chose to divorce me — he was not surprised one bit. He knew that was your goal when he spoke to you by phone a year ago.
Apparently, without even knowing all of the details, his mind was already made up. He saw a wife who wrongly left her husband and concluded that she was not responding biblically to her situation and had made up her mind about the end of the story. This was not even close to accurate, but in his mind the die was cast.
It was at this point that my former husband, who had previously read Leslie Vernick’s book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and saw himself described on those pages, did a 180° about face and claimed that this was nothing more than a marriage problem. Later, he would come to embrace the term irreconcilable differences in his description of the failed marriage.
His friend, the counselor, served his needs nicely, appeasing his guilty conscience and providing a way for him to escape coming face to face with his need to change. I became the abuser and he the victim.
Another influential and well-known person threw in his support on a Facebook post, comparing him to the Psalmist whom he claimed “had the same experience.” (???) I am astounded that a situation where a seemingly happy loving couple suddenly falls apart with little obvious external signs of distress could be so easily judged. (In general I was able hide things until several weeks before I left when his reactions started becoming more public and more difficult to cover up). I also expect a counselor or any person who has dealt with people for any number of years to know that there is more than one side to every story.
I have been informed on several occasions that his friends do not understand why I am handling the whole situation the way that I am:
“When I describe to people the way you are they shake their heads in disbelief of the person I have to deal with.”
I wonder how many of those people have gotten the whole story.
There are people who will make their judgement and settle on a guilty verdict without having all the facts. It will happen; you can count on it. You cannot worry about this. You cannot put out every fire, and trying to launch a PR campaign will become “He said. She said.” You can’t control what’s being said, nor people’s opinions.
It took a while for me to come to this point but I cannot tell you the relief that comes with it. It is not so much as not caring what people think as it is realizing that those premature and unwise judgements shouldn’t be opinions that you worry about.