The decision to choose anger over happiness is based on one factor, and that one factor is judgment. Judgment is the root cause of all violence. Does this person meet my expectations or not? Does this situation please me or not? Does this event conform to my morally correct and spiritually advanced view of the world or not? Does this condition push me ahead or leave me farther behind? Does this situation create more work for me or make my life easier? Does what's going on enable me to feel special and respected or not?
We basically organize our lives into two giant categories: people and things we like and people and things we don't like. Everything that's good conforms to your ego's view of the perfect world. Everything that's bad does not. In any case, judgment always revolves around you. You are the judge. You are the jury. You are the executioner. This is all conveniently packaged into one person. You are, after all, the master of your universe, and you must be obeyed.
There's only one catch. Judgments are not the truth. They seem like the truth. They seem very much like the truth, but they're not. Judgments are a perception of the truth, or an opinion about the truth, which are modified through the filter of the ego.
"The last judgment" is typically seen as God's final appraisal of our earthly performance. The Course in Miracles reinterprets this misperception for us. It teaches that the last judgment is the last time we make a judgment against self or another. God, of course, is not capable of judgment because that would be a limit on His love, which is not possible. Judgments are therefore the exclusive and sole domain of the ego.
Judgments come from your highly personal preferences, your cultural environment, and the input you get from your physical senses. Preferences, culture, and physical sensations are constantly changing. We know that judgments are not true because truth never changes, whereas judgments change all the time. Therefore, judgment is a highly unstable and unreliable way of guiding yourself through life. Look more closely at how your judgments can be influenced and swayed.
1. Judgments based on personal preferences
Personal judgments are the most flexible and rapidly changing of all types of judgments. They're based on a set of ever-changing conditions such as age, education, size of bank account, job, marital status, physical condition, degree of spiritual awareness, whimsy, mood of the day, history, habit, weather conditions, and more. Personal judgments are also based on each person's unique dream of the perfect world.
- One person, for example, may think that "tough love" is an act of caring and is therefore good. Another person, perhaps the one on the receiving end, may think that "tough love" is heartless and is therefore bad.
- One person may think that giving advice and telling loved ones what to do is helpful, supportive, and good. Another person, perhaps the one on the receiving end, may think this behavior is invasive, repressive, and bad.
- One person may think that complaining is a reasonable way to solve problems. Another person, perhaps the one on the receiving end, may think that complainers are crybabies who should be ignored.
- One person may think that women who wear makeup look pulled together and beautiful. Another may think that made-up women are false and are more interested in appearance than character.
- And on and on.
Over the course of a lifetime, your goals and personal preferences change, and they change dramatically. What you like and value as good when you're a two-year-old is likely to be unappealing and irrelevant when you're a 15-year-old. What you like and judge as good or bad as a 15-year-old is likely to be different and irrelevant when you're a 50-year-old. What you like and consider good as a 50-year-old may be completely different when you're 80. So your personal judgment is a moving target that changes as the conditions in your life change. It cannot be trusted as a way of determining goodness and badness. All it can do is reflect your personal preference of the moment.
2. Judgments based on cultural environment
You may work in a corporate culture where the people in your company choose to believe that building products without defects is the most important thing to value. Another company may have a corporate culture that says producing high revenue numbers is the most important value and product quality is farther down on the list. And still another company may have a corporate culture that says customers are the most important value and if you take care of customers, business will take care of itself. All of these companies make judgments about goodness and badness based on their culture.
In addition to our individual opinions about goodness and badness, we are also influenced by the opinions about goodness and badness that are held by the groups to which we belong. A culture is created when a group of people band together and share common beliefs or values. All cultures generate their own conventions. A convention is a commonly held idea that the people in the group buy into or believe. So, for example, a common Christian convention is the idea that good Americans respect and pledge allegiance to their flag.
Group opinions take more time to form and are cumbersome to change, but they're still subject to change. Here's a quick snapshot of a handful of conventional social judgments that have been changing over the past 50 years:
- A common social convention is the idea that good marriages are monogamous. A common national convention is that sex before marriage used to be considered immoral and bad, but in many circles it's now considered normal and good. In fact, some parents proactively take steps to make sure that teenagers use birth control and are knowledgeable about protection against venereal disease.
- Mothers who worked outside the home used to be considered unfortunate and/or unloving to their children. Now two-income families are more the norm, and women who work outside the home are typically perceived as responsible, caring people who provide valuable financial stability to the family.
- Casual clothing in the business environment used to be considered bad. If you didn't "dress for success" you wouldn't be taken seriously and you were showing disrespect for dress codes. Now many business environments have policies that tolerate casual dressing. In these instances, dressing down is often viewed as employee-friendly and more aligned with the times, whereas dressing up is sometimes perceived as unapproachable, inflexible, and stodgy.
- Children who addressed elders by first names used to be considered rude and bad. Now there are many social situations, especially outside of school, where this rule is much more relaxed. So when children address adults by their first names, it's considered child-friendly, easy, and good.
- Women who had children out of wedlock used to be stigmatized as loose, poor marriage material, and bad. Now many women elect to have families without the benefit of a marriage partner. While this is still an unconventional choice, it is a choice that is becoming more acceptable, and many people no longer judge it as immoral or wrong.
Hindsight and distance enable us to more easily see that conventions are not cast in concrete. Therefore judgments made in the past about people who did not conform to popular conventions were likewise not true. These judgments were just collective opinions about social, work, or religious preferences that were prevalent at that particular moment in time. Were all these past judgments of badness fair? No, they were not fair. Were they worth the emotional pain and angst that they caused? No. Not any of it.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with having an individual or group preference. What gets us into trouble is holding the thought that our way is good and right and anyone who doesn't share our preference is wrong or bad.
3. Judgments based on sensory input
Seeing is believing, isn't it? We make judgments based on information that's received through our senses. If we witness something with our own eyes, it must be true. If we hear something with our own ears, it must be true. If we feel a sensation through our body, it must be true. Anything that comes to us through our senses is automatically perceived as 100% true.
But what we see, hear, and feel can be misleading. I learned this when I attended my first fashion show. I was in my late teens. It was a glamorous event, and I had the fun of watching pretty models walking down the runway in beautiful clothes. Like Madonna, these women had style. They had grace. They had attitude. But right away I noticed one of the models wasn't doing a very good job at showing off the clothes. She clutched her clothes tightly around her body. She took stiff, tentative, baby steps down the catwalk. She could not seem to walk to the pace of the music. She did not smile. She was not relaxed. In short, she was a bad model. Watching her made me uncomfortable. She didn't fit my vision of perfection. There was nothing about her that I wanted to copy. I could see her badness as a model with my own eyes. Everyone could see it. There was no denying it.
But my judgment of this woman was not the truth. Even though I witnessed her performance with my own eyes, I did not see her truth because I did not and could not see the whole picture. I just saw a tiny piece of the picture, and I made a judgment based on my limited view. My perception seemed right. It led me to a logical and rational conclusion. But it was an unloving mistake.
Here's how I know for sure it was a mistake. At the end of the fashion show, the master of ceremonies made a point of introducing this particular model to the audience. This was her big, special night, and her modeling experience was a kind of therapeutic "coming out" statement. The woman had recently lost her arm. This was her way of accepting herself. Obviously, I did not realize she was a model of courage until I heard the emcee's announcement.
So we faithfully believe that what we see with our eyes, what we hear with our ears, and what we sense through our feelings is true. Yet even this information cannot be trusted. Perception is not truth. It's just a limited view of the truth, and everyone's perception is different.
- Recently there was a murder trial publicized on network TV. It was about a 40-year-old man who bludgeoned another man to death in a fit of rage. There were seven eyewitnesses to the event, and there were likewise seven different versions of truth at the man's hearing. Whose truth is right?
- My husband and I listen to audio tapes whenever we take long car trips together. The other day, we were listening to Jack Welch's autobiography, Straight from the Gut. When the tape was done, we started discussing some of Jack's ideas. It was very clear that my husband and I heard two different versions of the same story. Whose version is right?
Einstein's Theory of Relativity says that all truth is relative. This means that truth or observation changes based on what's being observed, how it's observed, where it's observed, when it's observed, or who's doing the observing. Of course, Einstein is not referring to spiritual truth, which is based on the invisible world which we don't see, and which does not and cannot change. He's really talking about human perception, which is based on the physical world we do see, and which is subject to enormous change. In fact, our worldly "truth" is a moving target.
In an effort to make this point in a more vivid way, I'd like you to imagine you're at one of my love seminars where you observe an unusual exercise. Four volunteers are asked to come center stage and put on an ant show. Each volunteer pretends to be an ant living on a different part of a plastic wine glass. The first ant lives at the base of the glass. The second ant lives on the stem. The third lives in the liquid. And the fourth ant lives on the rim. The objective of the exercise is to describe the ant's life experience and to come up with a little philosophy about how life should be lived.
Typically, the volunteers really get into the opportunity to perform and philosophize. So, for example, the volunteer playing the ant who lives on the base of the wine glass might say "life is just going around in circles." And the philosophy for success might be to run the most circles. The ant living on the stem might say "life is a lot of ups and downs." His philosophy for success might be to just stay up as long as possible. The ant living in the liquid might say "life is a continual struggle to stay afloat." Her philosophy for success might be to band together and make a huge raft. And the ant living on the edge might say "life is a balancing act." His philosophy about the best way to live is to stay in the center of the road and never go to extremes.
Each ant makes a different judgment about what's good or best based on his or her life experience. The audience can easily see and understand that each ant forms a judgment based on a very limited and highly specific perspective. And even more importantly, the audience can see and understand that the ant's judgment is not the truth. It's just an opinion about the truth.
The role of your Higher Christ Self is to lift your perception as high as you are willing and able to lift it. Lifting up literally means that you lift your mind and see things from a higher, more distant (and less personal) perspective. Another way to explain this is that you are simply open to another point of view. So, for example, the ant on the circular base might lift his or her perception to see that the ant on a stem has another point of view. The ant on the stem might lift his or her perception to see that there are at least two other points of view. Perhaps the ant in the water can see all four points of view. And the ant on the rim might lift his or her perception to the highest level possible. Perhaps he or she is able to see that it's just a glass, lads and lassies, just a glass. We're making all these judgments about the best way to move around on a glass.
Judgment always results in the determination of goodness or badness. The world is full of good events and bad events, good guys and bad guys. You and me, we're the good guys. Our anger is good, morally upright, and should be allowed to continue. But those bad guys -- whoa! Their anger is bad, morally wrong, and destructive in every way. It should be stopped immediately. All those bad guys should be punished, too! Everyone sees him- or herself as the good one. Even a terrorist sees him- or herself as a good person. Therefore everyone perceives their own anger as good and justified. Our delusion is this: We think there's such a thing as good anger and bad anger, good hate and bad hate. The hate we give out is always the good hate. And the hate we receive from another is always the bad hate. So, for example, upon recognizing ourselves as killers, we may be highly motivated to hate ourselves for it. That hate will then be perceived as "good" hate. It's good or at least appropriate to hate yourself or someone else for doing something bad. This is what we think. This is what we've been taught. And this is how we live.
We're all pretty savvy and smart. This leads us to think we're qualified to understand hate and to say what hate means. Something that happened to us seems to be bad because we didn't like the conditions we experienced. Maybe we were uncomfortable. Or maybe we experienced something dramatically different, or unpredictable, or harsher than we would have liked. All of these conditions are automatically labeled bad. But are they? The Tibetans say you should never judge a situation because you never know when you're having good luck. So what we think is bad luck may actually be good luck, and what we think is good luck, may not be of any real use.
Consider the Zen story about the good horse, the average horse, the poor horse, and the bad horse. The good horse only needs to hear the rider's verbal command, and he immediately does what he's supposed to do. The average horse first has to hear the command and then see the shadow of the whip before he does what he's supposed to do. The poor horse has to hear the command and not only see the whip but also feel it. And the bad horse -- well, he has to hear the command in a harsh way and then feel the sharpness of the whip all the way to the marrow of his bones. Then, and only then, does he do what he's supposed to do.
Everyone, of course, wants to be the good horse, and no one wants to be the bad horse. But the good horse is just mindlessly responding and isn't really getting anything of use out of the situation. Whereas the so-called bad horse is learning to make a conscious choice in a way that cannot be ignored. Therefore he's getting a great deal out of the situation.
The moral of the story is that we have no clue what's good and what's not and are not qualified to judge.
Judgments seem like small things, but they're not. This is because every judgment has a hateful consequence. Every angry, hateful thought matters. And every angry, hateful word matters. Every angry, hateful act matters. No matter how often we try it, and we do try and try and try, anger never results in happiness. Anger blocks happiness. It prevents it. It makes you miserable. It makes the people around you miserable. It makes the world a miserable place to live. This is why anger is such a double-edged sword. No matter how much your anger seems to be directed outwards, towards another, it is ultimately an attack inward, towards self. We are angry with ourselves because life has not turned out exactly as we dreamed it should be.
Anger and low self-esteem go hand in hand because anger blocks the experience of self as love. There are many socially and psychologically based programs to beef up self-esteem, but the only sure unshakable path to self-esteem is to be a loving, harmless being. Then your self-esteem is not dependent on any external condition. It is not dependent on receiving the attention or support you might think you need from others. It is not dependent on anything except your own willingness to be a loving being. If we're not being hurtful to ourselves and others, then there's nothing not to like. There's nothing to feel bad about. There's nothing to worry about. There's nothing to be afraid of. You don't scare yourself. You don't scare others. Freedom from the tyranny of fear is a major life achievement.
EXERCISE: NOTICE YOUR JUDGMENT
You will become increasingly aware
that a slight twinge of annoyance is
nothing but a veil drawn over intense fury.
A Course In Miracles -- W.32
The problem with anger is it can rise so fast and be so automatic that we may not even realize we're angry. The goal here is to become aware of the impulse to judge. For the next 24 hours, become aware of all the ways in which you judge your world. Notice every time you say "I hate . . ." or "I don't like" or "This really annoys me" or "What a pain."
Notice how easy it is to bother you. Notice how easy it is to offend you. Just notice. This is the first step in the transformation process. Once you learn how to notice your anger, you can then train yourself to transcend or override it. Pay attention to what's going on in your own mind.
"Are there ways for gauging one's spiritual strength?"
"Give us one."
"Find out how often you become disturbed in the course of a single day."
Anthony de Mello
One Minute Wisdom
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About the Author
Karen Bentley is Big Heart. A highly gifted author and in-demand speaker, she is the nationally acclaimed creator of the Awaken Your Passion book and seminar series. Her goal is to revolutionize the way people think about love, to show how spiritual love is the source of all happiness and peace. Formerly, Karen served as the director for The Center for Forgiveness and the editor of The Spirit's Voice, a magazine for spiritual seekers. Visit her website at www.big-heart.com.