The Power of Nonjudgement

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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.

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10 Responses to The Power of Nonjudgement

  1. Roger Eaton says:

    I followed the link and found Fania Davis quoting Dr M.L. King about combining the militant and the moderate. This “restorative justice” movement seems really smart — the application of a relatively minor intervention just at the critical point to send things in a better direction.

  2. kris says:

    i love Krishnamurti’s quote. Thanks for sharing.

  3. If ever “restorative justice” or the concept thereof, was needed it is now in the horrific tit-for-tat killings of three Israeli youth and the revenge burning to death of an Arabic boy in the “Palestinian Territories” this last week. While not a religious person, I certainly feel I am a moral one, and generally reasonable enough. I know the saying,
    “Vengenance is mine sayeth The Lord, and I believe it to be a very reasonable and profound maxim. However, I don’t feel comforted, and I want to throw them to the mob, especially the ones who burned that very small 16-year-old boy! HELP!!!

  4. Angelee says:

    This dovetails so well with something a friend said to me earlier this week when I was stewing about some concern or another. She simply said, “What if it weren’t a problem?” I saw how I was making it a problem by viewing it as such, but that actually nothing terrible was happening. Thank you again David for your insights and beautiful written word.

  5. Will Fudeman says:

    Yes, many of us judge ourselves and others too harshly, causing unnecessary suffering. Still, if we choose to not use that form of judgment that is discernment– as in– can I really trust this person enough to let him/her move in to my home?– we might regret just allowing ourselves to watch what happens.

    The ideal balance is a sort of dance– being aware of our judgmental feelings as they arise– taking a look at where they are coming from– making choices that are informed by our feelings, even if we might sometimes be a bit ‘judgmental’.

    For most of us, it’s not easy to drop our judgments and just experience what is. Meditative practices are helpful. And, our minds have developed habits over the decades of our lives. Here we go again, making judgments. Most of us are not going to be able to be like Krishnamurti, unless we’ve been meditating for decades, and practicing non-attachment and non-judgment.

    • David Spero RN says:

      Will, I agree that it’s not possible to totally stop judgment in this world. But we can cut it down a lot, can’t we? I also note that positive judgments are as potentially damaging as negative ones. If you judge that some person is trustworthy enough to allow into your home, what are you basing that on? It might be better to suspend judgement and let them wait. That’s certainly what I found out with Pete.

      • Matu Feliciano says:

        Let them wait…..I did, they did more damage to themselves. I don’t have to say much at all. When a person is out of sync with reality and is harmful to others, get out of the way. It becomes flight or fight. As you said, let them wait.
        That way you are not compromised in any form.

  6. Tammy says:

    A great lesson for us all–for me anyway. I lost out on a promotion to a younger, less experiencer coworker–who my colleagues selected over me! I was livid. I hated all of them. I made my work environment toxic because I was so mad, even though I like the woman who is now my supervisor. I had to work on forgiving each of them and forgiving myself for not making the cut. I knew I was the only one suffering at my own hands. This is something I had to work through. Anyone who can jump right to the non-judging must be some higher being. As for me, I will never let up on yelling at Fox News, should I happen to hear it! Moral outrage can be important too 🙂


    There is always a personal cost to judging others, and I have found by personal experience that it is NEVER worth it. There’s no way around it- it is a law of the universe that bitterness and unforgiveness are the fruit of selfishness.

    But we might say, “But I am not a selfish person”…just the fact that we say, “It’s not fair- I demand justice” is indication that we operate from an egocentric perspective, “I win you lose” perspective.

    It has been said, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but bitterness rots the bones”; if we harbor bitterness, judgement and unforgiveness against someone, we will pay for it, and it is never worth it. I have seen this law affect people’s health- I can show you the patients who will progress well after surgery and the ones who will be stuck in the revolving door of disease, for example.

    Take the high road, suck it up, swallow our pride, extend peace, and watch healing in action- it is truly amazing.

  8. Mathias says:

    As someone close to this experience, it’s helpful for me to realize how judge mental I was not just of them, you, myself, the courts… to what end? Thanks as always for working and walking the path, leading the way.

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