The Dangers of Making Inferences

Most of us have heard the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but my favorite new adage is: ‘don’t judge a movie by its trailer.’ We have all read books or went to movies that looked better on the outside, but the content was lacking in several areas. I’ll be the first one to confess that I only buy books or watch movies that look like they will be interesting based upon the cover. The truth is, if I didn’t judge movies or books by the trailer or cover artwork, I would be spending a lot of time, money and energy reading and watching things that I don’t actually enjoy.


[Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders, Adult Leadership Training, Personal Assessment Workshop]

Judging is an action that everyone performs on a daily basis. We make judgment calls about things or people in order to save time and energy.  We take note of what a person is wearing, what they are saying, their piercings, tattoos, and the way they smell. Through these exterior attributes, we somehow come up with an idea of that persons character, work ethic, family, financial situation and so much more. Experts call this The Ladder of Inference (see above diagram). “We adopt beliefs based on the conclusions we draw, which are based on what we observe, which are influenced by our assumptions and experiences.” (GRILeadership, Adult Leaders Training) This is a very natural process for most people.  We see or experience something or someone, and through our experiences and beliefs, we try to put labels on situations and people groups. Otherwise known as stereotyping.

These Labels and stereotypes often lie. Physical appearances or previous mistakes don’t define people. The problem is, humanity doesn’t operate well when there are no definite categories in which to make judgments on. When we get to know individuals from different tribes and nations we notice that they can’t be shoved into statistics and definitions or analyzed based upon our own prejudices and experiences.

I would hope that people wouldn’t label me, and I know I’m not the only one who struggles with going up the ladder of inference and making judgments about people and labeling them. So as a person reaching for maturity I must heed the Bible about judgment.

Jesus Himself says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV)

Just imagine being face to face with Jesus during our time of judgment. He lovingly reminds us of Matthew 7:1-2 and then kindly starts judging us by our appearance and the labels we used because that’s the way we judged others. How terrifying that will be for a lot of people! Every one of us has judged people with labels that are so disrespectful and demeaning that we would not be able to stand on judgment day, all because we look at the appearance rather than the heart.

When a person judges solely on looks he has turned his heart away from God’s heart and accounted God’s words as false. For when God tells Samuel to go anoint the King of Israel He tells Samuel, ‘“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”’ (1st Samuel 16:7 NIV)

If we judge based on appearance we disregard the dignity of human beings. The very dignity we received when God deemed us all worthy of His sacrifice on the Cross.

As we examine our hearts let us also look deeper into the word of God about Judgment.

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