I find myself deeply resistant to letting go of the practice of dividing the world into “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad”, “likes” and “dislikes”.
My suspicion is that much of my resistance to abandoning my propensity to view the world in “good/bad”, “right/wrong”, “like/dislike” dualities is motivated by my desire to push away the pain of living in direct contact with the unmediated reality of human experience.
I cling to the strange conviction that, if I can fit everything into tidy categories, I will regain a sense of control over the forces of life that so often seem chaotic. My need to judge between “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad”, “likes” and “dislikes” stems from my desire to live in a universe that feels safe, predictable, and sane.
But I understand there are a number of issues with my attempts to fit life into easily identifiable polarities:
1. When I say something is “wrong” I am dividing life into opposing categories. There is “right” and there is “wrong”. There is “good”; there is “bad”. I have experiences I “like” and experiences I “dislike”. “Wrong”, “bad”, “unlikeable” are all agents of separation. These labels separate me from those parts of life I judge unacceptable, making it more difficult for me to see clearly and enter responsively into the fullness of reality.
2. The dualistic categories to which I am so addicted are never entirely accurate. Nothing is ever absolutely “right” or totally “wrong”. If I am willing to look deeply enough and listen patiently, I will always be able to find some dimension of “right” in any situation. Conversely, if I am honest, I must admit that, even in a situation that on the surface I judge to be completely “good”, there remains some mixture of self-interest and ego at work. No person is ever completely “bad”. Nothing but God is completely “good” (Mark 10:18).
Every person and every situation is always vastly more complex than mere “right” and “wrong” might suggest.
3. Paul suggests that, my knowledge of any person or any situation, is always incomplete and inadequate. So judgment must always be delayed as long as I am confined to this time-bound, material realm in which my grasp of reality is always partial.
Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. (I Corinthians 4:5)
Even when “the Lord comes” it appears that Paul restricts to God the prerogative of judgment.
4. Every experience in my life is diminished by the attempt to reduce it to the confines of a narrowly defined label. Everything is always bigger than any word I use to describe it. When I reduce anything to a label, I miss part of the experience contained in that reality. I will never know a person as fully as I might, or engage as completely as I could, if I begin with a preconceived notion of the situation or the person.
5. There is a risk that, having labelled something, I feel excused from dealing with it. If I identify a situation as “wrong” I no longer need to pay attention to it. I no longer need to listen to the person I identify as “bad”. I feel justified in avoiding experiences I judge uncomfortable, awkward or painful. When I have decided I “dislike” something, I can exclude it from my experience.
6. When I separate things into categories, I no longer need to look at myself. I concretize “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, “likes” and “dislikes” into categories that are “out there”. I no longer see the similarity between myself and that which I have labelled as “bad”. “Wrong” is about someone else. When I identify “wrong” as out there, I become blind to that reality within myself. Paul says in Romans 2:1
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
There is no human experience that is foreign territory for me. I am not other than the one I judge. We are deeply connected by the common reality of our humanity. I am in fact one with all life. Living in duality is living in unreality.