The Illusion of Right vs Wrong, Good vs Bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare

We humans are quick to judge. In the wild, quick judgment could save lives as prey need to ascertain whether or not to flee from potential predators. Most of us, however, judge when there is not much at stake, except perhaps our egos and our need to be right.

One way to stop judging others is to realise that most of our judgments are fallacies. We judge something to be right or wrong, good or bad, when this distinction is actually an illusion, as all dualities are.

What a duality is

A duality refers to two opposing forces, each of which gets their meaning from the other, as what the other is not. For example, day and night are defined with reference to each other. ‘Day’ is the time when it is not ‘night’ and vice versa. When one half of this duality is absent, the remaining word has no meaning.

Other examples of dualities:

  • hot and cold
  • bright and dark
  • heavy and light
  • wet and dry
  • fat and thin
  • joy and sorrow
  • pain and relief
  • positive and negative
  • success and failure
  • right and wrong
  • good and bad

These distinctions are useful, of course. They are just not real, not out there in the world. They are merely mental constructs we use to make sense of the world, to define things in relation to one another.

Beyond dualistic thinking

Things that do not require their opposite in order for us to understand them would not count as dualities. These exist independently of anything else and are therefore ‘real’. For example, you exist. I do not need to ask what is your opposite in order to give you a meaning.

When you go beyond dualistic thinking, you do not need an idea’s opposite to understand the idea. When you hold your child in your arms, you do not ask what the child’s opposite is. It just does not make sense.

However, the sense of joy that fills you as you look down at the child will suddenly make you realise that life before this child was empty in a way that you only understand now. That is a duality: the fullness and the emptiness.

Judgment is dualistic thinking

When you judge that somebody is ‘bad’ or has just done ‘wrong’, you are engaging in dualistic thinking. He has fallen short of a standard you call ‘good’ and carried out an action that is not the ‘right’ one.

Again, dualistic thinking is not wrong. Sometimes it helps you to define the person you want to be: you may decide you want to be strong instead of weak, brave instead of timid, friendly instead of withdrawn etc. All this is fine.

At another level however, realise that all these judgements at some level are meaningless, because all dualities are not actually real. Once you realise this, you will automatically stop judging because you start thinking at another level, where comparison makes no sense.

Beyond judgment

When you stop thinking in a dualistic way, you no longer have to need to fit everything into one of two categories: right or wrong, good or bad. You are more able to see something for what it is, instead of what you think it should be.

Just in case you are now thinking that I am saying that judgment is wrong, I’m not. Because ‘wrong’ itself is already a judgment. I am merely pointing out that one type of thinking – dualistic thinking – lends itself to judgment, whereas not thinking at this level renders judgment meaningless.

The next time you find yourself being judgmental, instead of berating yourself for being ‘bad’ and staying at the level of dualistic thinking, just realise that the whole idea of right and wrong itself is an illusion. Chances are you will smile and feel freer straightaway. Judging less will also help you to love others better.