If I see other people as making mistakes, am I judging?

Question: When I see other people's mistakes of any kind, when I think the way they are acting or talking is wrong or hurtful or selfish, am I judging them? Do I have to accept everybody's wrongdoings? In the last year my experience was that they even took advantage of my acceptance!!

Answer: There is a common approach to forgiveness that we can easily confuse with the Course's way but is really a whole other take on the matter. This other approach amounts to finding a way to explain the other person's behavior so that it was right, or at least not wrong. See if any of the following lines sound familiar:

"That behavior was neither right nor wrong. It was simply what is."
"She was doing her best."
"He meant well."
"She was just expressing her truth. She was on her right path."
"It was perfect, however it may have looked."
"It must have been meant to be. There are no mistakes."
"How can I know if it was right or not? I'm not her. She did what was right for her."
"He only did that because he was abused as a child."
"She was just under lots of pressure."
"He didn't realize what he was doing."

All of these are different, but they have one thing in common. They tell a story in which the behavior was somehow right, or understandable, or at least not wrong. They tell a story, in other words, in which the behavior was not a plain old mistake. This story, then, becomes the basis for feeling all right about the person. It becomes the basis for forgiveness.

There are at least two major problems with this approach. First, it implies that if you can't attach one of the above excuses, then you can't forgive the person. What if, for instance, this person knew full well what he was doing, had a good childhood, wasn't doing his best, and simply intended to hurt someone for the sake of his own personal gain? What do you do then? Do you have any way to forgive him?

Second, it sounds an awful lot like denial. The fact is that we do make mistakes. Let me speak for myself. I am not always doing my best. I don't always mean well. I sometimes know full well what I'm doing and do it anyway. I had a great childhood, but I'm still not always kind and gentle. If you forgive me at these times by telling yourself that I am doing my best, meaning well, etc., then I'm sorry to say that you are kidding yourself. You are finding spiritual-sounding reasons for turning your brain off.

This is why the Course never resorts to the above methods of forgiveness. You will never find it telling you to forgive because that person's behavior was simply "what is." In fact, according to the Course, that behavior was "what isn't." There are no practices where the Course instructs you to say, "I forgive my brother because what he did was perfect for him." From the Course's standpoint, we are fully capable of mistakes and make them all the time. "The Holy Spirit clearly sees the Son of God can make mistakes" (T-19.III.5:1). Further, we always realize what we are doing. As Jesus points out in the Urtext, no actions are "thoughtless" in the sense that if we had only thought about it, we would have behaved differently. We always do what we do on purpose. And this means that we attack on purpose. "No one attacks without intent to hurt" (W-pI.170.1:1). Another passage takes this even further. Speaking of attack, it says, "Its sole intent is murder" (T-23.III.1:5).

In the Course's approach to forgiveness, we don't have to turn our brain off. We can look straight at a mistake, realize it's a mistake, and then forgive it, not because it was actually perfect, but because it's not ultimately real. It cannot truly hurt us. It doesn't represent who that person really is. It doesn't even reflect what that person truly wants. It wasn't actually real.

The Course's rationale for forgiveness always rests on another reality. It rests on the invulnerable reality of the person being attacked. It rests on the pure and innocent reality of the person doing the attacking. It rests on the fact that this world is unreal and therefore its happenings ultimately have no effect. It rests on another reality. It doesn't tell some spiritually clever story about this reality (the world of time and space), in which that attack was actually okay. Rather, Course-based forgiveness appeals to another reality, in light of which that attack was really nothing. Surrounded by the radiant perfection of this other reality, the attack fades into insignificance. It becomes a tiny grain of sand in your shoe while you walk through a world of beauty with a beloved companion.

These two kinds of forgiveness briefly meet in a passage in the Course. In "The Correction of Error" (T-9.III), the Course says that even if your brother is speaking nonsense from his ego, "your task is still to tell him that he is right" (2:6). This sounds suspiciously like the wrong kind of forgiveness, where whatever your brother does is somehow "perfect." But then the passage goes on:

You do not tell him this verbally if he is speaking foolishly….He is still right, because he is a Son of God. His ego is always wrong, no matter what it says or does. (2:7, 9-10; Urtext version)

In other words, if someone is speaking nonsense, you don't say to him, "What you are saying is right (or perfect, or right for you, or your truth, or what is, or understandable because you were abused, etc.)." Rather, you say with your mind, "You are right—your being is right—because you are a Son of God. And this one glorious Fact is infinitely more important than the fact that your ego is speaking nonsense."

As Course students, let us endeavor to practice the second kind of forgiveness, rather than the first.

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