Gabby Bernstein wants me to forgive everyone.
All my exes. Bullies. Mean bosses.
Everyone who ever did me wrong.
Because, she says, unless I do, I’m going to steep in a toxic stew of judgment that’s going to bring my life down.
Bernstein is a banner-waver for modern spirituality. Oprah calls her a “next-generation thought leader.” She’s everywhere these days: women’s magazines, newspapers, TV and social media.
And her mission is to get us to dump the judgment.
We’re not making our lives any better by criticizing and blaming other people.
All that does is make us feel isolated and feed divisiveness and fear.
She wants us to see life through a more loving lens, by seeing the light in everyone … EVEN those we hate.
It’s one of those ideas that sounds great in theory.
Would the world be a better place if we loved everyone? Absolutely!
But is it possible for you and me to do that?
Maybe. Maybe not.
When I think about my relationship to forgiveness, I’d have to call myself forgiveness-resistant.
I wish I could forgive, but I find it hard to do.
I do everything Bernstein says we shouldn’t do. I judge people. I hold onto resentments. When someone crosses a line with me, that’s it. They’re out.
I always figured that was normal. We judge people because we have certain standards of behavior. We expect them to behave in appropriate ways. When they don’t, we have the right to call them out on it.
Isn’t that how society works? By turning us all into plainclothes policemen enforcing social standards?
But Bernstein warns against this perspective.
We don’t inspire people to better behavior by condemning them.
We inspire them by feeling compassion for them and seeing the best in them.
It’s an argument parents have wrestled with for decades.
Should you call out your child every time he or she does something wrong? Or should you ignore bad behavior and focus on rewarding good behavior?
What we now know is that children internalize the voice of their parents.
What you say to your child today is what your child will be repeating to him/herself as an adult. So it’s important to be careful with criticism, as well as firm about values and responsibility.
Knowing this, it’s no wonder my internal voice is as critical as my external voice. I use the same words I heard growing up. In fact, the judgment I feel towards others always starts in the same place: with judgment towards myself.
Bernstein wouldn’t be surprised. “Sometimes the biggest bully you know is you,” she says.
So how do we break the habit of judging?
Is the hassle even worth it?
If judgment is part of everyday life, how can it be so bad? (The entertainment industry would collapse if we stopped judging tomorrow!)
Bernstein’s got an entire book to convince us.
In Judgment Detox, she offers a 6-step plan that combines forgiveness, meditation, tapping and prayer designed to set each and every one of us free from judgment.
Free from judging ex-boyfriends.
Free from judging bad drivers.
Free from judging politicians.
Free from judging ourselves.
But taking that first step is difficult.
You have to WANT to give up judgment. You have to WANT to feel the freedom of forgiveness.
The reason you want to give it up is because judgment brings your energy down. It feels good for a moment but bad in the long-term. Judging others always ends up making YOU feel guilty.
Yet it’s so addictive!
We are a nation of gossipers. That’s why we love those catfights on reality TV, comedy skits making fun of other people, and scathing put-downs on Twitter. Judgment brings us together.
Unfortunately, it’s a false sense of togetherness.
You can’t build genuine belonging around a common enemy. It’s an argument Brené Brown makes persuasively in Braving the Wilderness. Maybe we’re hard-wired to judge, but we can always choose to define ourselves by what we’re FOR rather than by what we’re AGAINST.
You can be FOR kindness rather than AGAINST rudeness.
You can be FOR respect rather than AGAINST disrespect.
You can let people know how you want to be treated rather than criticizing them for mistreating you.
Isn’t that just semantics? Surely we can be both anti-bullying AND pro-kindness at the same time?
Not necessarily. If you’re anti-bullying, how does that affect your ability to be kind to bullies? Doesn’t it make you more likely to condemn bullies, rather than extending kindness, compassion and forgiveness towards them?
Or to take an example closer to home…
If your partner mistreats you, do you focus on what he did wrong?
Or do you show him what you’d like him to do differently next time?
9 out of 10 of us would probably focus on what he did wrong. Blaming him. Shaming him. Making him feel bad.
We believe that guilt and shame will motivate him to try harder next time.
But—as you’ve probably already found out—shame is a poor motivator. It drives a wedge between you. He’s less likely to try harder next time if he feels you’re judging him.
Even if her judgment detox isn’t your cup of tea, Bernstein is right to draw awareness to the epidemic of judgment.
We believe that self-righteous judgment solves problems, when in fact it only serves to divide us further.
Do you have to stop judging completely and forgive everyone in your life?
I think that’s overkill.
But learning to spot when you’re being judgmental is useful. It gives you the option of choosing compassion.
And our world could use all the compassion it can get.