Would You Rather be Right or Know Peace? The Power of Non-Judgment

We have all heard the cliché, would you rather be right or happy? Sometimes it’s just easier to let the other person claim victory. But, secretly, you know better. You know you’re way of seeing things is right; you’re just being the better human.

This dynamic is not the pathway to true peace (transitory happiness maybe; peace not so much). We are unearthing a distinction that allows us to discover for ourselves that our assessments may not be as indisputable as we once believed. Then we are free to decide if judgment brings peace or suffering. And, while it might seem that realizing we were not right makes us feel wrong, that is not what happens. It’s not a matter of right and wrong at all: That’s the point.

Shoulds and Shouldn’ts

Non-judgment may sound esoteric, but it is just the opposite of judgment. When we judge, we evaluate an experience, person, or circumstance relative to other criteria. A rainy day can feel like a gift from heaven after forty days of scorching heat. Or it can feel like a curse on the tenth day of a deluge. Those evaluations are relative to the environment in which we experience the rain.

Non-judgment is not the opposite of discernment, however. We often conflate discerning and judgment in the English language, but it is helpful to distinguish them. When we discern, we observe. The sky is blue is discernment. The sky is beautiful is a judgment. Discernment is observing, while judgment (in this context) is evaluating. It is based on our comparisons and assumptions when we think things should or should not be a certain way. Or if we believe it always to be a particular way. In the example above, The sky is blue is discernment when you observe it and determine it so. You could also assert its blueness out of habit, in which case you are evaluating it against your expectation.

Pause and Practice

Experiencing something in the absence of evaluation is essentially accepting what is at any given moment. This is remarkably unfamiliar to most adults. It is observing what is happening (or not) without the need to define it.

After reading this paragraph, stop reading for a minute and see if you can demonstrate the distinction. Look around the space you’re in. Notice how your skin feels as it interfaces with the space. Notice when your mind tends to go toward, I’m cold, I’m hot, the room is messy, the air is pleasant. All judgment. Let that go and observe. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Sense?

What non-judgment is not

One challenge people face when exploring this idea is the belief that non-judgment causes indifference if injustice happens. It is not about burying your head in the sand or entering a state of denial; in fact, denial is an indication that we are judging our experience as more than we are willing to accept. Once we practice non-judgment, we come into a wholehearted acknowledgment of the moment, and our capacity to pay attention increases.

Non-judgment is not moral indifference. The work to be done is not a total suspension of ones’ capacity or willingness to evaluate what is happening. It is learning to slow the process down enough to distinguish between events and what we think about them. Bad things do happen, and we should not be apathetic to that reality.

Non-judgment and forgiveness

Non-judgment is one of the critical skills needed to fully forgive (along with emotional awareness/processing and empathy). Learning to recognize habitual analysis in the present moment creates space to see that the evaluation is independent of what is happening. Once space is opened, it becomes much easier to explore the possibility that past assessments are not as objectively knowable as we once thought. That doesn’t mean something painful did not happen. Emotional, spiritual pain is discernable. We know if we hurt, and that is irrefutable. However, learning to use judgment wisely allows us to consider that everything else we thought we knew may exist within a spectrum of possibilities. And, more importantly, it empowers us to release our attachment to needing to know or define what happened.*

Many people believe that the need for forgiveness begins with an action—ours or someone else’s. This is not the case. The need for forgiveness begins with judgment, not what someone does.

Let’s illustrate.

Suppose you’re walking down the street on a sunny fall morning, chatting with a friend. Now, imagine a disheveled man running up to you and stomping on your foot. Ouch!

Does the need for forgiveness exist?

Well, that depends on how you evaluate the man. Is he sane? What was his intent? Was he being malicious or maybe trying to be funny? Does he even know what he did?

It also depends on your past experience. Did you have a sibling who tormented you with foot-stomping as a child? Do you love someone who suffers from mental illness?

And, it depends in part on your psychological and emotional experience at the time. Did the man embarrass you in front of your friend? Did he frighten you?

Can you see from these examples how the switch can be flipped from feeling injured to not? You may go from anger and resentment to deep compassion with one inquiry.

Hopefully, that example illustrates the power judging has on our perception of what has happened in our lives. Instantaneously, we go from what is happening to what we think or feel about it. Learning to see that transition can be a superpower.

There is a time and place for judgment. Calling our wedding day perfect brings us joy. Naming another person as not good for us allows us to choose who we want in our lives. The power and importance of non-judgment is recognizing when and why we are doing it. If we can distinguish between what happens and our judgments, we are free to choose if it serves us and if it does not. You might be surprised to see how often it adds no value at all.

When we exercise faith in not knowing and respond to the cues life gives us, we experience the freedom and wholeness of living from a place of our highest good. Take time to notice if you’re engaged in evaluating or ranking the world around you and ask, “Is this creating peace?” If not, consider letting it go.


*Note: After trauma, the impulse to know or understand what happened is common. If that is where you are on your journey, respect it. Examine, fight, defend if that is what your gut tells you to do. Just know, at some point, if more inner peace is what you long for, practicing non-judgment may help.