This piece was born out of my ongoing confusion about how to talk about the vision of living beyond right and wrong thinking. Two questions repeatedly arise, and I am not always satisfied with my responses to them. As different as they may seem, both, to me, are indicative of the same challenge. One question is some version of: “Are you saying that it’s OK to kill someone?” The other takes the form of: “Aren’t you saying that judgments are wrong?” My one word answer to both of them is simply “no.” So, what, then, am I saying?
Our Words Have Consequences
My rather arbitrary starting place in disentangling the many threads in this knot is to explore the significance of our choice of words. Saying that something is “wrong”, or “right”, or “beautiful”, for that matter, has consequences for the speaker as well as for the person hearing the words. This form of speaking assumes a standard of what these words mean that is external to the speaker and the listener. The speaker is not taking full responsibility for being the one making that judgment. The listener is subtly invited to agree with the speaker rather than to understand the speaker. The ensuing conversation, if one takes place, is less likely to be one of exploration and connection than one of making pronouncements and, in the case of disagreement, debate, possibly acrimony.
If, instead, the speaker speaks of their experience, what they say becomes incontrovertible and invites a different quality of relating. No one can argue with me about whether or not I liked a certain movie. Anyone could argue with me about whether or not this was a bad movie. Speaking of our own experience, our own inner frame of meaning, and taking responsibility for that being my frame instead of some truth that lives outside of me, has different effects.
For myself, based on years of learning, practicing, and teaching, I can say with definite clarity that I prefer the consequences of speaking without judgments to what happens when I use judgment words. The quality of connection and dialogue, and the capacity of people to work together to create something they can both live with, increase with the former. In part, this is because saying things from a personally owned perspective tends to be more vulnerable and therefore, again in my experience, invite a response that is also more vulnerable. In part, this is because when the speaker expresses things in that way, there tends to be more of an explanation of a “why” that the other side can then relate to.