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The Difference Between Justification and Understanding

Last updated on May 18, 2015


I shouldn’t have had that last éclair.

The Work Is Not About Justifying

It’s about gaining understanding.

If you’re new to The Work, you might be surprised to find turnarounds like, “He should have hit me.” Or “I should have had three éclairs.”

At first sight, these turnarounds sound like justification. It sounds like they are encouraging others, or myself, to do things that are bad.

But The Work Is Not About Good or Bad At All

It is only about balance. My internal state of balance.

So when a turnaround like, “He should have hit me,” comes up, its only purpose is to balance the original statement, “He shouldn’t have hit me.”

When I can hold both sides together, then there is balance.

Here’s Another Way To Ask It

“How is it understandable that he hit me?” This puts me in his shoes. I start seeing him as a human being. Humanly capable, like we all are, of being violent.

It is not justification for what he did. I’m not condoning violence. I’m simply finding compassion and understanding for him.

When I feel understanding inside, then I’m free. That’s when I stop hating the person, and can simply take care of myself so I don’t get hit again.

And the Same Goes With Self-Judgments

The turnaround, “I should have had three éclairs,” is not about justifying my addiction. It is not saying, “Go forth and eat without restraint.” No. It’s just about balance.

If I’m feeling guilty, that’s not a peaceful place to be. The Work is just about finding my balance again. If I’m beating myself up with guilt over what I ate, then a little understanding can help alleviate the suffering.

The Question Becomes, “Why Is It Understandable?”

“Why is it understandable that I had three éclairs?” Then I get to meet my mind – or the part of my mind that went for the éclairs. That’s understanding.

It’s a balance to my guilt. But if I push the “it’s understandable” idea beyond the balance point, then I step into justification and start feeding my addiction.

For me, that is where the spirit of The Work lies. In noticing when I’m justifying vs. when I’m gaining understanding. And the difference lies in how I feel inside.

No One But Me Can Tell

That which sounds like justification to someone listening may be pure understanding to me, bringing me great peace. And that which sounds like me gaining understanding and compassion through my work, could be pure justification for me.

That’s why it’s self-inquiry. I have to notice it for myself.

Have a great weekend,

“I don’t let go of my thoughts—I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me.” — Byron Katie, Loving What Is

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About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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