These were all pointless worries. They would happen or they wouldn’t, and I would be OK either way. In practice, others haven’t judged my performance nearly as harshly as I judged myself.
When I stopped beating myself up – a common expression that points out how useless and widespread self-judgment is – I could see how I had grown and why I had made mistakes. I had found the strength to fight back by going to court; I had erred in allowing Pete to live here in the first place out of misplaced niceness and poor boundaries. So it was all about growth and healing, after the judging stopped.
The most healing form of nonjudgment is forgiveness. In her book, “Left to Tell,” Rwandan genocide survivor Imaculeé Ilibagiza tells of hiding in an unused bathroom with seven other girls in a house owned by a sympathetic Hutu pastor. The killers were walking up and down the street looking for people like her to kill.
Imaculeé was overwhelmed with grief, fear and anger. Some of the young killers were lifelong friends, who had been coerced or convinced into chopping up other friends with machetes. Her own family had probably been killed, although she couldn’t be sure. And she was stuck in a bathroom with these feelings, unable to even talk above a whisper for fear of being heard.
She writes that her feelings were making her crazy, and she realized that, to survive emotionally, she had to forgive the Hutu killers, even while they were still trying to kill her! That is a remarkable feat of forgiveness, but it saved her. She was able keep calm; she and the other girls survived, and she is now a US citizen who gives talks around the world about forgiveness and healing.
I hope to follow her model, because forgiveness takes a big load off the forgiver. You probably have heard that “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I’m not taking that poison anymore, in regard to Pete or anyone else. I’m just observing.
That doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you. It’s important to set limits when they are needed. Getting angry can be helpful, too, if it’s about a situation you can change. But if I can’t change anything, anger only hurts me. One thing seems certain, if I am angry, I must have the courage and skill to express it and do something about it. Otherwise, let it go and stop judging the situation, other people and myself.
Of course nonjudgment is more easily said than done. A couple of days ago, I was telling two friends about this article and not judging. Then one of them turned on Fox News, a piece about why nonviolent drug offenders should be kept in prison. I found myself yelling back at the screen and making all kinds of negative judgments. So I’m not there yet. More work is needed.
Nonjudgment in the Schools
Last weekend, I heard Fania Davis speak. She described how she had spent her life fighting racism, sexism, capitalism, and other evils.
Then, she said, she realized “the world didn’t need fighters. It needed healers.” She started a Restorative Justice program in the Oakland schools. The program deals with student misbehaviors by emphasizing healing, bringing people together, and finding ways to support them, instead of judging, suspending, expelling or arresting them. In three continuation high schools, they have reduced the annual number of suspensions from around 200 to about two. Fights went from being daily occurrences to being nonexistent.
Restorative Justice is based on accepting and healing. A video showed the story of a student who had cussed out a teacher, which would have gotten him suspended or expelled most places. Instead, the Restorative Justice team interviewed him and the teacher. They found out how hard the student’s life has been; trying to take care of younger siblings while his mother is drug-impaired and father is in jail.
They also heard from the teacher that the student’s verbal assault had wounded her and had her thinking of quitting teaching. Then they held a meeting with the student’s mother, sports coach, and other people who committed to help him, the teacher, the principal and some others. The student heard how his actions had hurt the teacher. He apologized and agreed to help her clean her room regularly as restitution. She realized that he had not been reacting to her but to his hard life situation. They made up. His mother committed to do better by her children in specific ways. Everybody got something out of it, and nobody was judged.
Restorative justice works in the adult community, too, in the places where it has been tried. Our criminal system judges and punishes. Neither the victim, the offender, nor society gets anything out of it except huge expenses for prisons and increased crime.
As Fania Davis says, healing is what we need, not punishment. I think that’s true for us as a society and individuals, too. Nonjudging is a good place to start.