Fundamentals of Forgiveness: Creating Joy with Non-Judgment

We have all heard the tried-and-true cliché, “Would you rather be right or happy?” It turns out there is great wisdom in this infuriating little platitude. Being right, or more accurately, being attached to it, is a judgment and it can take many forms. Sometimes, the subtlest judgments are what hold us back from joy the most.

“This is what happened.” “What he did is wrong.”

I can hear the little voice in your head now. “Well, it was wrong. What my dad did is not okay.”

You might be right about that. It probably was not okay but where do you go from there? What is your goal in holding rigidly to your evaluation? What is the point? Are you in a debate with someone? Do you feel unheard?

There is an alternative that allows for joy.

We grow up learning to judge our environment and the people in it. From a survival point of view, this makes sense. We want to feel safe, so we put everything into boxes and work from there. We decide “people like that” are not worth our time and we can’t trust anyone so why try. We decide we don’t like coconut and don’t taste it again for twenty years only to discover we love it.

The challenge with this way of approaching life is that most of our evaluations are not founded in reality. They are based on what we have learned from our primary caregivers and our own biases and assumptions about “the way things are.” The advantage to this way of living is efficiency and a (false) sense of control. The price is the elimination of possibility and wonder. Does that seem like a rational trade off?

As we move into the healing journey of forgiveness, it is essential that we acknowledge this and create space to see things in the realm of possibility rather that as black and white. As long as we tell ourselves we are right and everything else is wrong, we cannot heal.

One way to increase our ability to judge less is by approaching our memories and the people in our lives with open-hearted curiosity. Begin by assuming you are safe (if you are not, this is not the time for forgiveness, but rather, time to make very practical changes in your life to create the security you deserve). With the reminder that you are a capable, powerful individual fully in charge of your life, make the decision to approach your experiences as an explorer. When you find yourself saying, “Oh, I know what’s going on,” stop and instead say, “Maybe I don’t know what is happening.” Simply by considering we actually do not know—and, just as important, we do not need to know—we shift our perspective from one of defense to one of receptivity and openness to the wonders life has to offer.

Another reason non-judgment is important to forgiveness has to do with the process itself. Forgiveness begins by acknowledging the pain we feel without judging or evaluating it. Our feelings are a guide. They are never wrong they simply are what they are. It is our judgments of how we feel that cause us to feel powerless or out of control. As we increase our comfort and ability to approach life with open-mindedness rather than responding to our feelings with judgments—you’re weak, you shouldn’t feel this way, it is wrong—we are able to simply observe our emotional responses and allow them to come and go. This is healing. Literally. Rather than a clinging to it we are letting it move through us. We are processing, and in the absence of judgment we find love, so we are also deepening our ability to have compassion for ourselves and the world around us.

Developing a habit of non-judgment and non-resistance not only creates extraordinary power in the forgiveness process but it is also a powerful way to live. Approaching life with a beginner’s mind manifests a world that is much different, more grounded in possibility and beauty, than a world where we know what to expect. We always find what we are looking for. So, if you are looking for something to be wrong, that’s what you will find.

Not being right doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It means you are not concerned with it. When we discover for ourselves that suffering begins with the judgments we have about what has happened or is happening now, choosing instead to embrace the unknown and navigate life as it unfolds becomes the only reasonable way to live. Cultivating joy, after all, is the most sensible thing we can do.