This year one of my New Year’s resolutions is getting rid of my moral judgments. I’ve been wanting to stop judging people for a very long time, but this decision never went further than my mind. In my heart, I just didn’t manage to really pull through and I kept finding an excuse for myself why I was “allowed” to judge.
My anchor was my morality. For some reason I’ve developed an overly strict (and rigid) morality for which even my parents sometimes make fun of me (obviously, they are not the ones who taught me to me to be almost autistically moral). I’ve always wondered where my strong sense of morality came from and even though I sometimes was irritated by my own rules and regulations, I generally was proud of my morals which oftentimes made me feel better than others. In hindsight, it feels like I have used my strong sense of morality to compensate for the lack of self-esteem and self-love, as if I’ve used my morality in order to create a sense of being worthy, which I lacked inherently.
The past few years, however, my self-esteem has improved and I realized that my moral judgements made me feel increasingly unhappy. Suddenly, I realized how much frustration and anger I felt towards people whom I judged as being immoral. The energy I received from my morality wasn’t anymore a reassurance that I was a worthy person, but turned into an affirmation that other people weren’t good enough. Constantly thinking how “bad” people are and what people should or shouldn’t be doing is pretty energy-draining, believe me. Obviously, it sucked my energy to continuously resist my present reality: that people do things I disapprove of. If everyone would be just like me, life would be so much easier! But people are simply not like me, so my life turned out to be increasingly difficult, full of resistance, frustration and anger. At a certain point, I started to avoid contact with people in general, just to prevent myself from becoming angry and frustrated by seeing how other people’s choices differ from mine.
In a way the corona crisis has helped me a lot to break through this cycle. I’m grateful for this huge real-life “theater” in which I could observe from a distance how morality works. Or better said: How ineffective it is and especially how destructive it is. People from all camps have been bombarding each other with moral judgements which all have a valid point, but are all not reconcilable with each other. I realized the futility of wanting to push through a moral viewpoint in a world which is far too complex to know on a factual level what is “right” and what is “wrong”. And having a moral judgement implies that there is one definite truth, as if such a thing as the “one and only moral action” would exist.
I believe in morals on a meta level, but not on a factual level. Our lives are too complex to make clear cut morality possible. Let’s look at these examples from the current crisis: The measures which are taken are meant to save people from falling ill and possibly die. But at the same time one of the consequences of the measures is that people (especially in poor countries) suffer from hunger due to lack of tourism and governmental support. So, is going on holidays immoral? Or is staying at home immoral? In the Western countries the most common consequence is not hunger, but depression. Social isolation can be just as damaging as the virus. Some people would run the risk of getting ill in order to spend Christmas with their loved ones rather than being alone. So, is it immoral to visit Granny on Christmas or is it immoral to leave her all alone while you are in the warm company of your husband and children? Who is to judge about what is right and what is wrong?
“Somewhere between right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Even though many people see that it’s impossible to create a uniform agreement about moral behaviour, many people fear this world view. We fear that without a clear definition of morality people would just do whatever they please, without considering others. We’re afraid that people would consistently do each other harm if we wouldn’t tell them what we think is best. Without consensus about what’s right and what’s wrong we fear our spouses would constantly cheat on us, our neighbours would steal from us and our colleagues wouldn’t support us anymore. We are afraid our needs might not be met, but we don’t realize that by holding on to our moral judgments we ensure that part of our needs won’t be met.
First of all, we ensure that we’re trapped in the emotion of anger. Believing that our moral value is valid makes us believe that it actually makes sense to be angry. We hope our anger will be an effective punishment which will open the other person’s eyes and will change his or her behaviour. Oftentimes, the opposite is true though and all we achieve is that the other holds on to their behaviour which is a natural response known as reactance. Reactance is a reaction people exhibit whenever they feel that their freedom is being restricted. In order to regain their sense of freedom and agency, they will naturally not do what is expected from them. Since the other is most probably not going to change his behaviour and you feel entitled to be angry, you host the feeling of anger much longer than is healthy for you. To a certain degree anger is beneficial, just like any other emotion but by holding on to our anger, we don’t give ourselves the chance to see what’s behind the emotion and therefore miss out on important lessons.
One of the lessons all of us will have to learn when we’re stuck in a moral judgment is the art of empathy and compassion. No matter what people do which we judge to be “wrong”, in the depths of our souls we are all infinitely good and we’re all trying to be happy. So, instead of judging someone we might also take the chance to open our hearts by cultivating compassion and empathy. When you keep in mind that everyone wants to be “good” and happy, try to imagine what his behaviour implies for the other. Many people will know on some level that what they do is not up to their own moral standards, but the fact that they do it nevertheless comes from a place which lies much deeper. Oftentimes, this stems from trauma or some survival instinct which always comes from our subconsciousness. Therefore, you can’t simply assume that someone takes a conscious decision. These decisions (even though they look conscious) come from their subconsciousness and they don’t even really know why they’re behaving the way they do. In order to justify their behaviour, people will use their (subconscious) defense mechanisms which are essentially based on an illusion.
“It’s easy enough to preach morality on a full belly.”
- Erwin Sylvanus
We are all steered to a certain extent by our subconsciousness which at that moment robs us from our free will. Everyone has different levels of consciousness and someone might be more conscious of one aspect than the other. So, to what extent does it make sense to judge someone for something they’re not even aware of? Of course, you could reason that someone needs to create more awareness and should therefore meditate more, but you could also reason that the fact that you’re still holding on to a moral judgment means that you need to create more awareness and might meditate more in order to facilitate the feeling of compassion and empathy. Having empathy for another always implies having empathy for yourself, so include loads of self-compassion in your meditations if you want to overcome your judgements. In the end, cultivating compassion always brings about healing for the other and for yourself.
Keep in mind, that we simply don’t live in a perfect world (at least not in our perception) and therefore we shouldn’t expect it to be perfect. Does that mean that you should always accept any behaviour from anyone? No, there’s always room for improvement. But there’s a difference in making a request and sincerely accepting a “no” or judging someone for (not) doing what you deem appropriate. Once again, this is not something you only do for the other, but letting go of your judgement really benefits you as well. Next to having peace of mind by letting go of anger and cultivating empathy and compassion, you can also broaden your horizon by accepting a new perspective. Like this, you create space in your heart and brain for creative solutions. When we’re angry we tend to overthink the same judgement and scenario over and over again, which leaves little mental room for other options. Letting go of our moral judgment, is like opening the door to a new world. A world in which there are other possibilities, a world in which we can see the perfection of the universe, in which we understand why certain things happen to us and why certain people have to do certain things. It’s the world of pure awareness in which you can see everything exactly as it is: perfect.
Last but not least, I would recommend not to let go of your morality nor of your judgement, but to simply not combine them. It’s okay to decide that you like or dislike something, it only becomes dangerous once you attach a moral value to it. On the other hand, it’s great to have a sense of morality which you can use as a personal guideline. I’m personally very happy that I don’t have the urge to lie, steal or hurt anyone in order to feel good and secure and there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially when your morality comes from your heart and not from your brain, you can trust that your morality is supporting you in making the right decisions towards happiness. Just be aware that your morality is the best way for you to achieve your happiness which is not necessarily true for someone else. Everyone walks their own individual path and needs to make different lessons in order to grow. Be grateful for the fact that making difficult and maybe immoral decisions are not part of your curriculum (anymore). Thank yourself for your mental, emotional and spiritual stability which allows you to trust in the goodness of the universe and which doesn’t lure you into taking “control” over your life in ways which are harmful to others. Feeling this security is a huge privilege and being able to feel compassion for people who don’t enjoy this inner security, is yet another privilege. It allows you to feel gratitude for what you have and opens your heart. Is there any bigger gift than living with a peaceful mind and an open heart?
Let me finish off this post with one super easy, but very powerful practical tip: Simply remove the word “should” from your vocabulary. Whenever you catch yourself thinking something should be different, make yourself clear that it isn’t. Get back to reality and to whatever is instead of what should be. Being aware of this non-productive train of thought will most probably help you to get back on the right track which will result in peace, love and gratitude.