It's Not Good, It's Not Bad, But It's Not Me
Letting go of judgment
We all have a tendency to call some things good, and others bad. Most of us use polite terms like "positive" and "negative," but, if we look closely at our feelings, we'll see we're doing the same thing as those who talk about "good" and "bad," or even "good" and "evil."
The tendency to label things good and bad is, itself, harmful. Note, I don't say "bad." I use three pairs of terms most often: "effective" and "ineffective"; "healthy" and "unhealthy"; and "new" and "old." All of these terms are contextual. Chocolate cake is effective for celebrating a birthday, but perhaps not for losing weight.
When we subtract the judgment of good and bad, we add the recognition of our own perspective. This is beneficial in several ways, as we shall see.
A weed is a plant out of place
We call poison ivy bad, but it is a perfectly fine plant. We just don't want it growing in our yard.
There is a weed called bindweed, and it is terribly hard to get off a fence once it tangles it's way around it. It has another name, as well: morning glory, for it's lovely blue-violet flowers.
I was bitten by a poisonous spider, and my leg was crippled for six months. I might have lost it. But I don't blame the spider. The spider was just being a spider. It's unfortunate we collided the way we did.
Nothing is bad or evil
Some people say that killing is bad. I'm a pacifist, but I don't believe that. I do believe that it is never a beneficial choice to kill a person, and that animals should be killed only when necessary. But I don't call killing "bad."
In fact, killing has it's place. I think that place is in the immune system. I'm really glad that my immune system kills millions of bacteria each day. When the immune system fails, it leads to a really gruesome death in about 48 hours. (Look up the symptoms of the ebola virus, if you really want to gross yourself out.)
So no thing, or action, is bad or wrong. And thinking of good and bad does us no good at all.
Yet it is still really important, and really valuable, to decide what is right for us, and what is right.
Making ourselves the judge
To judge is to label something bad or wrong, or calling it good or wonderful. It can be a moral judgment, calling something evil, or an aesthetic judgment, calling it ugly, or a judgment about health, calling the thing sick or sickening.
But what ties it all together is that, when we judge, we are applying the label of "good" or "bad" to the thing, to the object of our attention.
We hurt ourselves when we do this. For those of you with a Jewish or Christian bent, consider that, when we judge, we are violating the first commandment. It is not what we say, but rather, that we claim we know what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. We are setting ourselves up as a god before God. In humility, who are we to call anything that God allows to exist "bad," or "wrong"?
From a spiritual and psychological perspective, we are giving up self-awareness, which is essential for all growth and healing. In claiming we are right, we are giving up the chance to be wrong, which is the chance to grow and learn.
But there is another option. It may not be healthy to declare what is right and what is wrong, but it is very healthy to declare "this is right for me."
Judge not . . . assess instead
I am asking only that we give up the claims that our judgments are right, and that they are about the object of our attention.
I'm not asking anyone to give up common sense. It is our right, our privilege, and an essential life skill to decide what is right and wrong . . . for us.
I suggest that assessment is a good term for deciding what is right and wrong for ourselves. Assessment is not judgment. I'm not calling spiders bad. I don't want to kill them. I just want to be more careful about not being bitten by one. I don't get rid of bindweed - I plant it to grow beautiful flowers and strangle an old ficus I'm trying to kill off. Not that I think the ficus is bad, just that, while it was a good choice for the guy who owned this house before me, it isn't right for me.
When we add those two words - those two magic words - "for me," we take away the sting of judgment. We own responsibility for our choices. And we free ourselves to make choices and live with the consequences. Letting go of judgment, we gain peace, power, and freedom. We gain peace because judgment is the root of anger, hatred, and all kinds of attack and distress. We gain power, too. How? As we make choices and live with the consequences, we naturally assess what is healthy and useful for us. We don't take in toxins. We don't weaken ourselves. And all the power of life flows through us. We gain freedom. How? Being free of judgment, we are free to see clearly, to assess, to decide, and to take action. Doing this, we create a life in which we make our dreams real.
Jesus said, "judge not, lest ye be judged." And he was right on - at least I think so. I find it healthy to let go of the tendency to judge, to let go of making declarations about things, to see the world less as black and white.
When we do, we cultivate acceptance.
For example, I am a pacifist. I admire Gandhi, and Aung Sanh Suu Kyi of Myanmar. But I also admire George Washington, who fought for freedom, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who stood up against Hitler, and Abraham Lincoln, who launched the Civil War. I believe great military leaders protect much of what is good in the world, and great spiritual leaders teach us how to build a better world.
We all need each other
So the pacifists need those who defend the good, even with violence. And the defenders of the good need the spiritual pacifists, or we end up being too sure that we know what is good, and defending what is evil.
Let us all see the value in all things, and appreciate it. Let us all see our interconnectedness, our inter-being.
When we do, we are free to make healthy choices for ourselves. In a democracy, we can choose righteous, effective leaders. In our foods, we can choose what is healthy and tasty. In our friends, we can choose those who make life more wonderful.
All in all, letting go of judgment pays off. In letting go of judgment, we open ourselves to wonder.