The nuance-crushing pendulum of human culture is at it again. In this case, it’s pulverizing the intricacies of Judgment and blurring the distinctions between its benefits and its drawbacks.
There are many spiritual teachings about Nonjudgment, and with the popularization of the practice, its essence has been diluted. We went from everyone judging and condemning everyone – burning women (“witches”) alive; families being denied vital resources over a social indiscretion; etc. – to modern folks denying their instincts and intuition out of a fear of being “too judgmental”.
But when we get down to it, Judgment is actually a rather broad term, covering a diverse array of naturally human behaviors, from discernment and interpretation, to diminishment and condemnation. It can be informative, empowering, catalyzing, and divisive – all for better or worse – depending on other factors.
So, what IS Judgment?
Judgment is simply a natural exercise in categorization; a matter of putting things in boxes. And there is a wide variety of box-sets.
There are Logistical Judgments that either work or don’t – Can I make that left turn?
There are Legal Judgments that are either true or false – Is this in accordance with the law as it is written?
And among a few others, there are Moral Judgments – Is it good or bad?
It’s really the Good and Bad box-set that get’s tricky. And also the one that Nonjudgment is actually in response to – but mostly concerning just one of the two types of moralities.
Objective vs Subjective judgments
There are two different frameworks for Moral Judgments: Objective and Subjective. Sort of like Fact and Opinion.
An Objective Morality has an external Source of Truth, and universal application. Like, Fact, decreed by an outside authority. (But remember: we’re still talking about Good and Bad here.)
A Subjective Morality has an internal Source of Truth, and individual application. Like, an opinion that leaves room for others.
In essence: Is it factually Good or Bad? vs. Is it good or bad FOR ME?
There is definitely a strong appeal to the notion of an Objective Truth on the matter of certain things that seem undeniably universally Good or Bad. However, Nature often provides counter examples, and human history has shown that, regardless of whether an Objective Truth actually exists, it has proven to be a problematic framework for us to operate on.
The problem of Righteousness
Without an Objective Truth, righteousness – “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” – is not a matter of fact, but simply a personal attitude.
To claim that something is Right and therefore Good, pits it against that which is deemed Wrong and therefore Bad; it inherently justifies this division, strips the Bad of any rights to dignity or respect, and entitles as well as obligates the “Righteous” to violate the sovereignty of the “Evil”.
Again, I am quite familiar with the appeal of perceiving certain things as inherently Wrong, Bad, or Evil. Allow me to explain the counterintuitive detriment of this practice.
First of all, it can just get wildly out of hand. Especially when we apply this thinking to human beings. (Take the Crusades, for example.) In my experience, holding Unconditional Love for all beings, and applying conscious conditions to all relationships, brings substantially more peace and love into our lives.
Get this: We can judge behaviors and systems, without condemning the people involved to some form of Hell. It’s also worth noting that when we’re in the habit of judging people, being people ourselves, we often condemn ourselves to our own versions of Hell.
And this brings us to the second problem with Moral Judgments, which is even more important to my personal aim of contributing to a more peaceful and loving world: the issue of Mental Operating Systems.
How we do one thing is how we do everything.
The real problem (as I see it) with Righteousness and judgment based in Objective Morality, is that it’s a toxic operating system.
Judgment is a mental operating system. So is Acceptance, Fear, Faith, Greed, Gratitude, Hatred, Love. We can have momentary experiences of these things, and when practiced regularly, they can all become lenses with which we perceive the whole world, including ourselves, and frameworks for how we respond to just about everything.
There is no world in which we run around labeling people for our interpretations of their behaviors, that we don’t also do the same to ourselves. I want to live in a world where we all prop each other up, hold space for our messiness, and give love with healthy boundaries. And that love isn’t going to flow unless we’re giving it to ourselves instead of criticizing and judging ourselves and each other.
Judging things as Good or Bad – even subjectively for ourselves (“this is good for me or bad for me”) – often leads to shaming others or ourselves (“I’m choosing things that are bad for me; I’m broken”). And, while Shame can be a helpful catalyst, in most cases, it’s pointlessly debilitating.
But – humans gonna judge.
A new judgment box-set
Having relinquished the final vestiges of an Objective Morality on my journey of Nonjudgment, I adopted a purely Subjective Morality. But I discovered that I was still judging myself through judging my own behavior as Good or Bad, even just for me, and it was still causing me shame.
I realized that the Good and Bad box-set was problematic for me.
I’ve accepted that Judgment is in my human nature and not something to be irradicated from myself, so I found a new box-set to utilize for my assessments of all things: ALIGNMENT.
It is neither good nor bad. It’s neutral. Whatever this issue, it’s either aligned with my values and goals, or it’s misaligned. And either can acceptable, depending on what I choose to accept. It’s more about functionality than morality.
Sometimes, I notice that I’m doing something out of alignment for me, and I just acknowledge it and carry on; sometimes, I shift my actions into alignment. (For me, Awareness is more aligned than being aligned all the time.)
When it comes to other people and their behaviors that are not in alignment for me, if we’re not friends, I just walk away. If we’re connected, I express my Truth and let them self-select their involvement accordingly. As needed, I will close the door and leave that key of insight with them, should they find a will and a way to turn it in the future. For larger causes and systems, I mostly give my support to what IS aligned for me. In rare occasions, I will take action to disrupt activities that are misaligned with my values and goals.
As for my judgments of other people’s choices, I aim to guide them to towards alignment with THEIR values and goals, not necessarily mine. (Unless that takes me out of my own alignment.)
Proceed with Discernment
Judgment is not inherently Bad. In many cases, it is a necessary function of your brain. Every time you listen to your gut, you are judging, and it will probably help you. Don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” here. Just pay attention. And mostly – be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself for judging!
Whatever your judgments – and you WILL make them – I encourage you to just be conscious of them. Be aware of your box-sets and be mindful of where you source your Truth.
For the most part, Nonjudgment is largely about observing before labeling. See if you can just be with your experiences, without designating them as positive or negative. In your day-to-day, work towards owning your opinions, rather than making decrees of universal fact, and neutralizing your assessments in terms of Alignment, rather than Good or Bad.
It’s particularly helpful to take stalk of your habits around labeling, name-calling, and use of weighted terms – even those you just do quietly in your mind, or privately in your journal, or discreetly with close friends. But – again – don’t be too hard on yourself. Awareness is a powerful alchemist, and self-judgment just gets in the way of its magic.
Lastly, try to avoid “shoulding” on yourself or others. And if you do choose to approach something in that way (as I’m doing right here), I recommend being explicit with the WHY, such as: in order to promote inner and inter-connection.