My Pre-New Year Resolution

Terry Lieb Judging Others, Living out your Faith 4 Comments

It’s the beginning of the new year, the usual time for New Year’s resolutions. Several friends and acquaintances have already mentioned resolutions like beginning an exercise program or committing to a healthier diet, both of which I wholeheartedly support and are areas I continue to work on myself!

Just within the past few days (it’s early December as I write this), I have identified an area of personal growth I have decided to commit—actually recommit!—to addressing immediately. (I do wonder why we decide to wait until January 1st and not begin today a practice we have determined would be healthy for us??)

It first came up when a neighbor repeated a derogatory statement he heard from another neighbor regarding a new person moving into our neighborhood. This statement wasn’t specifically about the individual whom neither neighbor knew personally, but rather about a religious group—or more accurately, a religious culture—quite prevalent in our area.   

Rita and I have been fortunate, and in many ways blessed, to develop several close and meaningful relationships with several individuals and families within this faith community.  Consequently, it was crystal clear to us the huge discrepancies between what we hear at times and what we have experienced in our relationships with these folks. 

Although we know how tempting it is to judge, find fault, and speak negatively about individuals and groups of folks who think, look, or believe differently than we do, it was still hard not to feel judgmental ourselves about the undeserved criticism.

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However, as I reflected on this experience, I realized that I could identify several recent situations where I’ve been guilty of similar behavior. Both the political and religious arenas are areas I increasingly find myself making unfair sweeping generalizations about whole groups of people. 

Monitoring how we speak about others is a challenge both Rita and I have struggled with periodically in the past, so I know it can be effectively addressed. For example, in the past, I have a knee-jerk reaction to drivers of high-end cars. My immediate presumption if they speed by or cut me off in traffic is that they are an entitled jerk who thinks they own the road. The exact same driving behavior in someone in a regular vehicle doesn’t provoke the same reaction.

This pattern almost certainly stems from my own insecurities. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I grew up in the coal region in very modest circumstances. Fancy cars were well beyond my reach. My longstanding aggravation at “show-offy” car drivers is probably related to resentment I felt as a young boy, a reminder of feeling “less than” those who could afford such luxury. 

This particular example is one I have been actively working on with good success (largely owing to Rita’s help!) but like both diet and exercise, monitoring your mouth is an ongoing, lifelong struggle and one I feel it is time to recommit to! I’ve decided that I will—starting now—attempt to not initiate or repeat anything about a person or group of people that makes negative assumptions or holds anyone up as an object of laughter, scorn, or derision for no good purpose.  

This commitment or resolution will certainly be a challenge for me and I am asking that any of you who know me to “caringly” confront me if you see me breaking it! This request would especially be helpful to me for those of you who interact with me outside of following my writing.  

From past experience, I know the first step to addressing this negative behavior is accepting the reality that I participate, passively and blatantly, in it more often than I would like to admit. Of all the steps in the process, acknowledging that the issue even exists is often the most difficult one! 

Becoming aware of your own assumptions and preconceptions—like mine for high-end car drivers—isn’t as easy as it might sound. There are negative stereotypes regarding just about every group you can imagine! Overweight people are lazy, athletes are stupid, poor people are lazy and stupid, rich people are entitled, beautiful people are stuck-up; religious people are hypocrites, blacks are criminals, whites are racist, old people are close-minded, young people are disrespectful, men are predators, women are untrustworthy, cops are violent, politicians are liars, businessmen are greedy…the list goes on and on!

A word of caution! ⚠️ Don’t be tempted to minimize your behavior by comparing it to other folks! This is an easy trap to fall into, but just focus on your own personal growth.

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The next step after acknowledging the problem is to make a commitment to tackling it. For me at this point in my life journey, that’s an almost automatic decision (the Total Wellness plan I blogged about in September 2022 to July 2023 describes my commitment to ongoing growth), but if I need extra incentive, there are a couple of techniques I have used that help solidify my resolve.

One is revisiting my past experiences for a time when I honestly faced unhealthy behaviors which were hurting myself or others and committed to an action plan to change that behavior or attitude. Capitalizing on past successes helps give me the confidence that I can make meaningful change in the current situation.  

I also recall how it has impacted my quality of life and also the folks around me when I gather the courage to set aside my insecurities and fears long enough to step into another person’s boots, sandals, crocs, or even go bare feet with them! I often learn that most of what I have heard and come to believe about them was totally inaccurate. Far from being a negative experience, my relationships and perspective have been expanded in truly transformative ways.  

Once I’ve determined that change is both possible and worthwhile, the next crucial step for me is to enlist folks to both confront and support me as I attempt to make this change. If you noticed earlier in this writing, I made a request that anyone reading this post who experiences me engaged in this destructive behavior to caringly confront me. Often they don’t even have to say anything—just knowing they are watching is enough to help me curb my tongue myself!

I am extremely blessed to have a committed life partner, over 51 years, that gets to observe my behaviors rather closely and is willing to give me the honest feedback and caring support that often makes personal growth more possible for me.

On several occasions we have agreed to work on the same personal growth area and this has proven to be very helpful for both of us (for those of you who know us on a more personal basis you are certainly aware that I have significantly more areas which need work than Rita does!). Fortunately, “self-monitoring my mouth” has been one that we have committed to as a team.

We have developed a few techniques together that have been useful for the most part, though some have required continued refinement. The first one is anticipating an upcoming high-risk situation and developing a strategy to deal with it. For instance, if we recognize that in certain company or in a certain setting we have initiated or participated in this destructive behavior in the past, we can be more alert to not falling into the same pattern again. 

Second, we have developed cues to alert the other that we are approaching or actually in the midst of an offending conversation! These cues may be verbal such as, “excuse me please for a few minutes; I need to hit up the restroom,” or physical, depending on the setting.  

Recently while having dinner with some friends, Rita quickly anticipated a high-risk story I was about to share and discretely squeezed my leg under the table. (This technique can be slightly confusing for me depending on what part of my leg she manages to squeeze! My editor may choose to remove this line, but I feel humor is extremely important in every aspect of our life journey!)

In this particular situation, I decided to share with the couple that Rita just squeezed my knee and why I’d decided to reconsider continuing with the story I was about to tell. This particular case didn’t involve stereotypes; it was a sure-to-be-amusing anecdote about some outrageous behavior of an “interesting” friend of ours. Unfortunately, the laughs the story was meant to generate would be at my friend’s expense. The decision to be transparent about why I was halting the story actually ended up creating what I felt was some meaningful dialogue that evening. 

Finally, we take time to debrief soon as possible after a challenging situation to celebrate our growth, critique areas which need more work, and brainstorm what we could have done better. 

Although Rita and I use this before-during-after strategy together, the same basic principles can work even without a partner. You can prepare and debrief on your own and while you might not have anyone to alert you to high-risk behavior while it’s happening, you can come up with “escape strategies” (like our bathroom ploy) ahead of time to give yourself time to think of a way to redirect the conversation if you find yourself on a conversation track you don’t like.

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Hopefully these strategies will help curb your own toxic talk. But what about you aren’t the instigator, just a listener? What do you do then? When conducting Total Wellness workshops, I will often raise this particular challenge when discussing Relational Wellness and just about every time a participant will ask, “what do you do when the folks you are with have a consistent pattern of talking negatively about other folks?”

I don’t believe there is a single response that answers that very real dilemma; it depends on a wide variety of factors such as the setting, the level or depth of relationship, and your comfort level in addressing your concern with them.

Of course, one option may be to attempt to avoid those situations or even certain individuals as much as possible. This can be very difficult when it involves family, colleagues, or other folks you find it difficult to limit your contact with.

One response I have tried when someone is bad-mouthing someone not present is to simply ask, “And how did they respond when you shared your concerns?” This rarely gets a response but often quickly ends that line of conversation! 

Another approach I have used with varying levels of success is to honestly explain the challenge I have personally taken on and why. This will often be in response to a question from someone who asks why I have suddenly become very quiet, which would certainly be out of character for me!  

The real challenge with this approach is to explain my decision in a manner that clearly conveys my motivation and doesn’t project any judgement on the other folks present. This is easy to put in print but extremely challenging to do in most situations!  With that being said, on occasion it has created meaningful dialogue at the time or even with individuals wanting to talk about it after the fact. This is a high-risk option with tremendous potential. 

In facing the difficult challenge of monitoring my speech (and the thoughts behind it!), my most helpful resource has been my evolving God relationship. The more time I spend with my unconditional loving God the more secure I feel in facing honestly all of who I am, especially the areas in which I need to grow. My growing realization how much grace and forgiveness are present when I fail or come up short both allows me to acknowledge my own failings and also have more tolerance and grace for others’!

Rita and I have been working on this potential growth area on and off for years and this recent commitment to once again focus on it will, I expect, be an ongoing challenge for both of us for some time to come. If you feel you would also benefit from a similar commitment, we invite you to add this to your resolutions as well–whether it’s January 1, 2, 3, or July 31!


  1. As to the challenge I have lifted up here and have taken on, has this ever surfaced as a concern for you? Why or why not? 
  2. Do you ever find yourself talking negatively about others for the entertainment value? Does innocent storytelling ever tip over into accidental gossip? Does bonding with your listeners ever come at someone else’s expense in other ways (i.e. mutual dislike or  outrage)?
  3. Do you ever complain about others to third parties instead of bringing your complaints directly to them? If so, why? What would be the effect of addressing your grievances with the object of your complaints instead?
  4. What do you believe the widespread and long-term damage stereotyping entire groups of people can inflict on the targeted person or group? What about on the people making those judgments? What might the widespread and long-term benefits of individuals and groups of folks making a solid commitment to confront this behavior in ourselves and others be?
  5. Do you believe it is “passive participation” when you are in the company of others who are involved in this destructive behavior and you fail to name it as a concern? Do you believe the others present assume you are support of or in agreement with their behavior if you remain silent?
  6. How does your God Image—your relationship with God—influence this entire process?  If you don’t believe in a God at this point in your life journey, how does your commitment to your own total wellness or your commitment to others influence your response to this challenge?
  7. Does this issue seem so overwhelming that your fear of failure stands in the way of making a commitment to tackling this issue? What would happen if we accepted not just the probability but the inevitability that we will face some failures along the way? What other barriers might get in the way?

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Barb (Shultz) Neff
Barb (Shultz) Neff
January 1, 2024 1:43 pm

I really appreciate this article, which has given me much to think about and clear suggestions on how to conduct myself by not speaking ill of others and/or tolerating others derogatory speech. Thank you!

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
January 2, 2024 8:41 am

Very challenging.

Cousin Kathy
Cousin Kathy
January 2, 2024 12:36 pm

I so appreciate all of your articles but this one prompted me to respond. I have been working on this very issue for many years and I still find it difficult at times. I especially like your comment – “And how did they respond when you shared your concerns?” Great! Another concern for me is how to appropriately respond to others when I don’t like their comments to me personally. Be assertive not aggressive is what I aim for but that’s not always easy! I don’t have any intention to stop evolving though. It seems to me that anything in life… Read more »

January 8, 2024 2:29 pm

Politics causes the most difficulty for me. It is sometimes very difficult for me to understand views different from mine even though I try. I generally just avoid the subject. I recently read that when someone says something you think is totally ridiculous you might say, “You’re better than that.” I feel that this is judgmental, though, and not a very good solution. Simply staying quiet or changing the subject would be a better solution for me. This is definitely something I continue to work on.