The more I meditate, the more I become aware of my frantically judging mind. I do not deliberately make judgments; they are my ego protecting itself to keep me operational, to keep me relatively emotionally stable for the moment. In the next moment, I judge anew. I incessantly talk to myself silently as my mind evaluates and reevaluates my self-worth, moment by moment, without cessation.
It makes me wonder: Do I need these judgments? Would I become inert if I were to mindfully let go of them? Is not every action I take grounded in a judgment? Is not every action aimed at a goal, at something I judge as desirable? Can there be doing without desiring, without liking or disliking, without judging?
Further, on a moral level, how could I have opinions about other people’s behaviors if I were to part with my judging mind? How could I judge rapists, murderers, liars, weak bitches, and assholes if I were to practice radical acceptance? Can a perfectly non-judgmental man even have a moral perspective?
From an economic point of view, is pure understanding and unconditional acceptance of incompetent, rude, lazy, imbecile, or mediocre employees not extremely counterproductive, nay fatal to any business venture?
Similarly for personal relationships, think about the sage who is perfectly non-judgmental of his children becoming rampant criminals, perfectly understanding of his wife being unfaithful, and perfectly accepting of people taking advantage of him. When does egolessness turn into spinelessness?
Concisely: Would a true non-judgmental attitude not lead to indifference, indecisiveness, and total inaction?
In this article, I will discuss two types of concrete judgments:
- Private judgments. These are the concrete judgments we become aware of during meditation. They are typically produced by our unconscious mind. I shall define them as emotional reactions to perceptions and thoughts that imply a like or dislike. Types of private judgments include:
- Personal appraisal. “Why must things like this always happen to me?” “This noise is so annoying.” “His voice is so annoying.” “She’s so full of herself.” “What an ugly dog.” “He probably hasn’t gotten laid in months.” “I better not upset this guy; he looks unhappy and emotionally weak.” “Ew, disgusting.” “This is true beauty.” “O God in Nature!” “Life is good.”
- Ego defenses. “She might be sexy, but she’s overweight, so I won’t hit on her because I value health and discipline and her appearance tells me that she has different values.” (Truth: “I’m afraid that being seen hitting on this girl could lower my social status.”) “This guy might be bigger and stronger than me, but he obviously takes steroids and has probably no life outside the gym.” (Truth: “I’m envious of his physique and feel small and weak in comparison to him.”) “He’s such a nerd.” (Truth: “I’m afraid that I might not appear cool enough.”)
- Self-talk. “I’m worthless.” “I’m a good person.” “I’m ashamed of my stupidity.” “I’m on the right path.” “I should’ve acted in that moment.” “I’m happy.”
- Moral judgments. These are the concrete judgments we make consciously as moral agents when evaluating a person’s moral worth based on a value system. They include:
- Interpersonal appraisal of vice and virtue. “Your tribal love makes you a racist and thus a monster (virtue of compassion for other races).” “Your universal love makes you untrustworthy; you must fight for your family, your comrades, your fatherland (virtue of loyalty).” “Eating meat diminishes your moral worth (virtue of compassion for other species).” “Taking drugs makes you a bad person (virtue of abstinence).” “You should donate more money to charity (virtue of generosity).” “Not approaching every girl you see on the streets makes you a coward (virtue of courage).” “A strong person is out of bed before sunrise (virtue of discipline).” “Not working hard makes you a lazy waste of air (virtue of duty).”
- Moral judgments drawn from objective truths determined by science. (Read The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris; I will not discuss them in this article because, given the current state of cognitive science, such judgments are highly impractical for everyday life.)
- Legal judgments drawn from intersubjective laws determined by society. (These, too, I will not discuss any further because judgments justified by illegality are impersonal and utterly boring.)
Now, imagine we would become so enlightened as to be able to emotionally detach from all these judgments entirely. How could we still do anything then? While it might work for a monk meditating himself to death in his hermitage, how could we keep functioning in the real world?
Hence the question: How can we act without judging? The answer lies in mindcoolness, the convergence of true pride (gratitude for one’s will) and true love (gratitude for other people’s will).
With a cool mind, we can mindfully observe the emotional reactions underlying our private judgments. We can be aware of how we automatically judge situations, people, and ourselves. We can detach from our reactive appraisals, our fear-fueled ego defenses, and our negative self-talk. At the same time, however, we can take pride in our mindful detachment, and we can use our true pride (our gratefulness for our will) to motivate proactive action. Importantly, we do not use our pride to fuel our egos or judge ourselves, but we use it as an emotional framework to give ourselves feedback on our deeds.
The same goes for moral judgments. Coming from a place of true love, we do not judge others in terms of good and evil. With a cool mind, we need not blame, shame, condemn, or even morally evaluate other people’s deeds. We need not be judgmental. Rather, we can stoically appreciate their unique will as determined expressions of Nature and use the force of our love to give constructive feedback, be it to help them improve themselves or to complete a given mission. While we may well criticize and speak up against others, we do it not from a moral stance, but from a pragmatic one (inspirational, rational, educational, economical, etc.).
For example, if someone acts like an asshole, I do not walk up into his face and call him an asshole. Instead of judging him, which would only be counterproductive, I either oppose his behavior physically or flank him verbally to make him aware of how he is actually undermining his own interests. There is no need for me to call him a bad person.
In sum: Instead of judging, we can use our pride to give feedback to ourselves and our love to give feedback to others. Constructive feedback, particularly in the form of a results-oriented proposal of action, is how we can promote action without judging.
Still, the feedback itself it not absolutely void of judgment. After all, every constructive feedback bears relation to a goal, a targeted result, a desired outcome. Goals are based on values, and values are essentially judgments; every value has the propositional form of “X is good.”
Value judgments, however, are unlike personal and moral judgments in the sense that they are abstract. Value judgments are not tied to any particular person or event, but tied to our visceral appreciation of virtues. This appreciation is rooted in our evolutionary history (nature) and our life experiences within one or several cultures (nurture).
By reflecting on evolution and life, we can gain the wisdom to rationally refine our value judgments and thus to improve the feedback we are able to give. The better the feedback we can give to ourselves and others, the less we have to rely on our mindless, ego-bound, and philosophically ungrounded private and moral judgments when it comes time to take action.
Two concrete examples
Although I could discuss a thousand examples of how my theory would play out practically, I will confine myself to two vivid cases that got stuck in my head and eventually drove me to write the present article.
Consider first this transcript from Family Guy (S12E12):
[Brian] Buddhism is an Asian religion that also has a significant following of annoying white people.
[Brian] See, these guys believe that after you die, you’re reincarnated and you come back as a pig or a cow or a rooster.
[Stewie] Okay, okay, that’s good. I already know what noises to make if I’m one of those.
[Brian] But they also don’t believe in demonstrating emotions either way, so they’re the worst people to buy birthday gifts for.
[Random Guy A] I know you’ve been having trouble getting around, so I bought you a new Lexus.
[Random Guy B] And I got you this tie clip.
[Buddhist Monk] Thank you both. These are equal to me.
[Random Guy A] Screw you! You don’t even own a tie!
Apparently, the Buddhist’s non-judgmental gratitude is detrimental to his real-life relationships. According to the virtues I value personally, the monk was right in waiving judgment on the material gifts he received and in not reacting emotionally. However, the feedback he gave was misguided. Unless his greater mission is to always verbalize his emotional detachment frankly, his verbal response was inappropriate.
As always, the fundamental principle is that of the True Will. If your True Will is religiously motivated, you might want to behave like that Buddhist. If your True Will involves maintaining close personal relationships in a state of mindcoolness, you might want to separate your emotional state from the feedback you give. Or if your True Will involves affective servitude instead of natural freedom, you might want to warmly embrace the mindlessness of your ever-judging mind.
With the second example, I will make my point from a different angle. Listen to this story by Alan Watts:
The Chinese farmer is emotionally detached from everything life throws at him. He does not pass judgment on any event. Obviously, my proposal of constructive feedback does not apply here because one cannot give feedback to the universe (I have no faith in religious prayers).
Nonetheless, we can imagine the farmer dealing with all those situations in a virtuous manner: by working hard without a horse, being humble about having seven horses, and taking care of his son. We can easily see how there can be action without concrete judgments. He only has to make abstract value judgments, namely, that hard work, humility, and medical care are good. Then, his actions follow naturally with the power of his will.
The art of non-judging lies in the stoic attitude of seeing oneself and other people as the universe expressing itself in a determined way. Why not be accepting of all natural happenings? Even though a “free will” does not exist, we can certainly appreciate every individual human will and try to influence it with our constructive feedback.
But what about aggressive “assholes” (pardon my judgment), child molesters, murderers, terrorists, or whoever is unlikely to listen to our well-intended feedback? Are we not obliged to judge them morally? No, we are not (unless we take into account moral truths, which, however, need not be as emotionally charged as the judgments I talk about here). Yet we can take action and precaution, just as we would with other natural events.
A drunk asshole getting aggressive is like a wild predatory animal: if he cannot be talked to nor be ignored, we fight or flight. There is no need for moral judgment, only for the feedback we give to ourselves in terms of how virtuously we deal with the situation. Would you judge a dog that bites you? No. You tame it or kill it. Ideally, you dominate it without causing harm, jiu-jitsu style.
Similarly, the atrocities of terrorists and serial killers are like natural disasters: to be prevented and dealt with for harm reduction. These, too, need not be moral matters, need not be reasons to judge, to be emotionally reactive. A volcano is not “evil” for razing a city to the ground, nor is a religious fanatic “evil” for bombing a building to pieces. We do not need moral outrage to take appropriate measures. All we need is love, pride, and a powerful will.
- Beyond Good and Bad?
- Why Judging Isn’t Bad
- Why You Should Judge Other People
- Why Moral Relativism Is False Humility
- Barbaric Tribalism Vs. Scientific Moralism
- How Our Beliefs Undermine Our Happiness
- Everyday Mindfulness: Awareness Over Feelings
- MBSR Mindfulness Challenge – Part 2 [Weeks 1+2]
- How Meditation Makes Us Rebels