Judgment Cool

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s easy to see the serenity prayer as part of a struggle to see the world as it is.   It is a request to support our surrender to realities in the world, whatever they are, facing them with will and grace.

To see the serenity prayer, the surrender prayer as I sometimes call it, as a call to let go of the luxury of judgment,  well, that is often much more difficult.

Judgment is the system society uses to demand assimilation.   If you don’t act like us — if your choices aren’t cool, like ours — then we judge you to be a failure, judge you a freak, judge you not worthy of being connected to other cool people like us.

The path of the adolescent is the path of judgment.  We empower kids to judge each other and create social pressure for compliance with the norms of society, forcing kids to come into line or face the judgment and the price for being uncool and therefore undesirable and essentially unlovable.

A key part of this process is giving our own ego the mandate to judge us harshly, so that it can help us avoid discomfort by demanding that we do everything we can to be accepted, to fit in with the others.  This is the ego who becomes police, enforcing playing small with the power of fear, with the fear of being shamed and shunned.

If you fear that somehow, deep down, you might be a freak, someone whose humanity is unique and bold, and you feel the need to keep that in check, it is easy to get addicted to judgment.

The opposite of surrender to what is real and present in the world and in us is judgment about how things should be, about what is cool and what is unattractive enough that it should be separated and minimized.

Once we learn to approach the world with judgment, our ego wins.  We spend our energy avoiding anything that might not be cool rather than spending our life force being present and enthusiastic in every moment, even the moments that might be corny, geeky or revelatory.

Getting hooked on judgment is learning to deny vulnerability.    Vulnerability is trusting that we can expose our self as we are, fearful and struggling and a bit twisted, and people will see, understand, value and connect with our essential humanity.

If we fear too much that we are going to be judged, we can never never connect on a deep level, and if we know how strongly we judge others, it is easy to believe that others will be as shallow and as judgmental as we are.

It is easy to get hooked on judgment because it is easy to rationalize the judgment.  After all, what could be wrong with just knowing what is cool, with choosing only what we know others will also find attractive?   Isn’t that just the way humans have always worked, letting desire shape their choices, going after that we judge to be nice and leaving behind that judged as icky?

Judgment breaks down the world into easy binaries, into false opposites.  Good or bad?  Attractive or ugly?  Cool or dorky?   Once we split the world in half it is easy to dismiss what challenges us as being on the wrong side.    Since we already have judged the right answer, all we have to do is find a way to judge others who challenge that answer in order to find a reason to devalue and dismiss them, to judge them of being unworthy of our engagement.

Judgment plugs our ears from listening and blocks our eyes from seeing what is around us, even what is in our own heart.   Once we only accept what is acceptable though the filters of our judgment, the truths can become invisible.   All we care about is how to fit the new situation into the binaries we already hold, bleating out “Good or Bad?  Beautiful or Ugly?  Up or Down?  Help me know what to think!”

Judgment stops us from going to unknown places, even unknown places in our own mind, because it stops us from going anyplace that we haven’t already judged acceptable and cool.   If we judge that our thoughts and feelings are not worthy, how can we ever engage and embrace them, even if they are what can ultimately free us?

One of the key spiritual teachings is that rather than working to have what you love you need to learn to love what you have.   It is only by seeing the value beyond the surface judgment of cool that we can begin to see what we really should be grateful for in the world, really have a base for growth and healing.

If judgment is your habit, though, and you have learned to justify judgment as just good and valuable discretion, it becomes simple to decide you are suffering when you don’t have what you judge as cool.   You can easily dismiss what you do have, no matter how good and precious and abundant it is, just because you indulge in the judgment of only embracing what you think you should have, only accepting what is cool enough to feed your own sense of entitlement.

Judgment is a way to shift the obligation for satisfying your own needs, shifting your personal responsibility for your own choices, onto others.  After all, if they just did what they should do, just did the right and the cool thing, well, you wouldn’t be suffering where you are now, would you?

If it is always the failure of others to deliver properly, to come up to your judgmental expectations of them, then how can you possibly ever find your own perfection in the world?  Doesn’t their failure to meet your standards justify your blowing your top at their crude and messy stupidity?

“Give me the strength to change what I can change, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The serenity prayer, the surrender prayer, is prayer that asks for help in engaging in the world without judgment.   It is a prayer that we can embrace the world as it is, that we can accept ourselves as we are, and then work from there to make our life and our world a little better.

As compelling as the idea of judgment may be, as much as we are taught that judgment is our entitlement, allowing us to separate ourselves from “those idiots,”  as much as we have internalized judgment as the proper and justified way to engage the world, all judgment does is separate us from the world as it is, denying us the true connection, growth and affirmation that waits for us when we get clear and vulnerable.

Judgment is the crutch of the immature who need to reject the world in order to keep their own comforting separation from it.   Holding judgment stops us from the firs step to growth, accepting what is, blocks us from really seeing and hearing what is, even stops us from listening to our own inner voice, replacing it instead with what we think we should believe.

The world as it is holds beauty, challenge and possibility.   We as we are hold beauty, challenge and possibility.  Judging that world to be too ugly to accept is what really keeps us separate from our own heart, our own divinity, from the love and beauty and tenderness that isn’t cool, but is profoundly and beautifully human.

To embrace healing requires rejecting the cool habit of judgment.  For many of us, though, as much as we have internalized that ego judge, that is still a surrender too far.