Would I Condemn Myself for Doing This?

I’d like to begin and end with one of the primary forgiveness lessons in the Workbook, Lesson 134. This is one of the lessons that has us pick someone to forgive and then go through a lengthy process of forgiveness, in which we review that person’s “sins” and then forgive them. Here are the practice instructions:

Let us ask of Him:

     Let me perceive forgiveness as it is.

Then choose one brother as He will direct, and catalogue his “sins,” as one by one they cross your mind. Be certain not to dwell on any one of them, but realize that you are using his “offenses” but to save the world from all ideas of sin. Briefly consider all the evil things you thought of him, and each time ask yourself, “Would I condemn myself for doing this?” (W-pI.134.14-15)

All the work, as you can see, is done by that one question: “Would I condemn myself for doing this?” This is an example of the important notion of a “real question,” which the Course refers to again and again. Real questions have great transformative power.

But what does the question mean? It can appear to mean one of two things:

  1. Would I condemn myself for doing this? If I wouldn’t condemn myself for it, then it’s not fair to condemn my brother for it.
  2. Do I want to condemn myself for doing this? Because if I condemn my brother for it, I will condemn myself.

These two interpretations are obviously totally different. And since, as I said, this question does the work in the exercise, the exercise itself will be completely different depending on which one we choose. So let’s try to solve this puzzle. To do so, let me just clarify further the two versions:

  1. In this one, I condemn my brother but then will usually let myself off scot-free.
  2. In this one, condemning my brother necessarily leads to me condemning myself.

There are some concrete clues right in the lesson. For instance, the next paragraph says this:

Let him be freed from all the thoughts you had of sin in him. And now you are prepared for freedom. If you have been practicing thus far in willingness and honesty, you will begin to sense a lifting up, a lightening of weight across your chest, a deep and certain feeling of relief. The time remaining should be given to experiencing the escape from all the heavy chains you sought to lay upon your brother, but were laid upon yourself. (W-pI.134.14-16)

This paragraph definitely seems to favor interpretation #2, for it says that when we tried to lay chains upon our brother we ended up laying them upon ourselves. This fits #2 exactly. As a side note, calling them “chains” appears to be more than mere poetic license. Notice how the “lightening of weight across your chest” is equated with “the escape from all the heavy chains.” He is clearly implying that as we condemn our brother, we lay psychic chains upon our chest, so that when we forgive our brother, we actually experience a lightening of weight across our chest, as the psychic chains are lifted off.

There are other clues later in the same lesson:

Forgiveness should be practiced through the day, for there will still be many times when you forget its meaning and attack yourself. When this occurs, allow your mind to see through this illusion as you tell yourself:

Let me perceive forgiveness as it is.
Would I accuse myself of doing this?
I will not lay this chain upon myself.

Here, when you forget the meaning of forgiveness and—it is implied—condemn your brother, you will automatically “attack yourself”—which is just like interpretation #2.

Then, the question we are wondering about appears again, this time with more context. You say, “Would I accuse myself of doing this? I will not lay this chain upon myself.” These two lines combined produce implications that clear things up significantly. I’ll supply the implied ideas to make this clear:

Would I accuse myself of doing this?
(For that is exactly what happens when I accuse my brother.)
I will not lay this chain upon myself.
(I will not accuse him and therefore lay a chain upon myself.)

Obviously, all the clues are pointing toward the second interpretation. The only thing that supports the first interpretation is that that is how the sentence initially reads, because of the usual meaning of “would I?” The problem here is that the Course is using an archaic sense of “would,” which is wish for, desire, want. We can see this in a number of other Course sentences that have the exact same form as our current one, sentences that are questions beginning with “would you” Here are two:

Would you know the Will of God for you? (T-8.V.5:1)

Would you be hostage to the ego or host to God? (T-11.II.7:1)

Obviously, both these sentences really mean “Do you want to…?” And that is what our sentence means: “Do I want to condemn myself?”

But this leads to a puzzle for Course students. We have always thought that the causation goes the other way—meaning that the way I see myself causes how I see my brother. Thus, if I see myself as sinful and guilty, I will project that onto my brother and see him as sinful and guilty. We often make it even more specific: If I see some annoying character trait in someone else, it can only be because I secretly see that character trait in me.

The Course does teach that as I see myself I will see my brother, it is true, but here the Course seems to be teaching the opposite. And that could be a problem. Can it really work both ways? Let’s look at other places in the Course that appear to teach what we are finding here in Lesson 134:

“Judge not that ye be not judged”

In our first passage, the Course reinterprets the classic biblical injunction to “Judge not that ye be not judged.” What has that meant traditionally? Obviously, it has meant that if we judge our brother, then we will find ourselves judged by God. Let’s look at what the Course does to it, however:

When the Bible says “Judge not that ye be not judged,” it means that if you judge the reality of others you will be unable to avoid judging your own. (T-3.VI.1:4)

Here, you start out the same way: You judge another person. But then, instead of God judging you as a result, you judge yourself. Your judgment of your brother leads to you judging yourself.

What you hold against him you will hold against yourself

We then have this very brief line from early in the Text:

Hold nothing against him, or you hold it against yourself. (T-5.IV.4:5)

This appears to express the exact same sentiment as the previous quote, only here it is slightly more specific. Now, instead of merely judging yourself, you apparently hold against yourself the very same thing you held against your brother. There seems to be some kind of sameness in what you judge him for and what you subsequently judge yourself for. For now, let’s hold that as a hypothesis, and test it as we go.

“As you see him, you will see yourself”

As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself. (T-8.III.4:2-5)

Here again the cause-and-effect relationship is very clear. First, you see (or treat or think of) your brother in a certain way, then you see (or treat or think of) yourself in a certain way. We might surmise that this can get specific: If I see my brother as a lyer, I will myself that way. So this passage seems to support the more specific interpretation.

“As you diagnose him, you will diagnose yourself”

Helen and Bill were professionally very much involved in psychological testing. In fact, I understand that they were in the process of merging various personality tests (such as Myers-Briggs) together into a single master personality test. Of course, as psychologists, they would also be involved with tests to measure someone’s mental health or mental illness, and to specifically identify that mental illness.

All of this presented a natural conflict with the Course. Thus, as Helen was nearing the end of taking down the Text, she and Bill apparently asked Jesus about this issue of psychological testing. Here is what she got:

As you see him you will see yourself. Whether this be through the use of psychological tests, or by making judgment in some other way, the effect is still the same [in other words, whether you are diagnosing someone’s mental illness as a healthcare professional, or just judging someone, say, as a racist, it’s no different]. Whenever you have judged anyone, it is impossible for you not to make this judgment on yourself. If you see one of your brothers, who happens to be a patient, as exhibiting signs of a thought disorder, then you will experience this same disorder in your own perception. For whatever your thought may be about anyone determines how you will respond and react to yourself and everyone about you. Take heed then when you are called upon to fulfill your function as teachers that you teach the truth about God’s Son. The only way that you can experience any peace while this unfortunate necessity for interpreting illusions remains is to recognize that you are discussing only illusions, and that this has no real meaning at all. Try to say a prayer for your brother while doing this and you will call forth and experience a miracle instead. (Special message, June 19, 1968)

The link between this passage and earlier passages is clear. Indeed, this one even starts with a quote from the previous one: “As you see him you will see yourself.” That principle clearly becomes specific here; there’s no doubt about it. It’s not just the general idea of “If you see him in a negative way, you will see yourself in a negative way.” It’s much more specific: “If you see one of your brothers, who happens to be a patient, as exhibiting signs of a thought disorder, then you will experience this same disorder in your own perception.” In other words, if you measure a brother and conclude that he is a bipolar, you will, to some degree, start experiencing bipolar tendencies in yourself.

This may sound weird, but it actually happens all the time in psychology classes. Students learn about certain disorders, and suddenly begin to notice the symptoms of that disorder in themselves. How does that happen? I think what happens is simply that, as you focus on this disorder in someone else, you start noticing in yourself whatever patterns parallel what you see in your brother. If you start focusing on someone else as bipolar, you will automatically begin to focus on your own bipolar-like tendencies. And as you focus on them, they magnify in your awareness. Pretty soon, you start feeling like you are bipolar.

This has probably happened to most of us. We may have someone close to us who has a certain diagnosis. As we become aware of what that diagnosis is, and what its specific characteristics are, you start focusing on those characteristics in yourself and wondering if you have that diagnosis. I asked the class how many of them had experienced this exact process, and most of them raised their hands.

“If he be lost in sin, so must you be”

This lesson is not difficult to learn, if you remember in your brother you but see yourself. If he be lost in sin, so must you be; if you see light in him, your sins have been forgiven by yourself. Each brother whom you meet today provides another chance to let Christ’s vision shine on you, and offer you the peace of God. (W-pI.158.10:3-5)

Here is the same principle, only I see in this passage an extra hint as to the mechanics at work here. It says, “If he be lost in sin, so must you be.” If your brother is lost in sin, then you must be, too. Why? For the simple reason that you can’t be that different from your brother. You both have two arms, two eyes, two ears, two legs. You share almost the exact same genes. How different can you really be?

Exercise: Think about whatever judgment you have of Saddam Hussein (for those anti-Bush types, you might want to use George Bush). Now ask yourself, “How different can I really be from him? I’m not a different species. Must it not be true that whatever is in him is in me, too? It may be not as strong in me, but must it not still be in me?”

Is it possible that this kind of reasoning is going on inside you all the time?

“And turn our eyes upon our own mistakes”

This last passage really provides the key to the whole thing:

And if a brother’s sins occur to us, our narrowed focus will restrict our sight, and turn our eyes upon our own mistakes, which we will magnify and call our “sins.” (W-pI.181.6:2)

This passage very briefly sketches a whole process. First, you focus on someone else’s “sins.” You narrow your focus down to their particular wrongs. This naturally restricts your sight—his “sins” fill your whole vision. Then you turn your gaze on yourself. Since these sins are all you can see right now—they are the whole of reality for you at the moment—you naturally look for their counterpart in yourself. If he is self-centered, you start thinking of the ways in which you think only of yourself. If he is a liar, you start looking for ways in which you bend the truth. If he is judgmental, you start looking for ways in which you prejudge people. And as you find these ways, they now fill your mind. You magnify them, so that now they are not mere mistakes. They are sins. Focusing on his “sins” leads inevitably to seeing yourself as a sinner.

The principle here seems to be a kind of distorted sense of fairness: If you judge a brother by a certain standard, somewhere in your mind you will be unable to avoid holding yourself to the same standard. You innately realize that the standard must apply to both of you. If you hold him to it, you must also hold yourself to it. You are trapped by your own sense of justice.

It reminds me of a Star Trek episode where this machine named “Nomad” was given the task of wandering the galaxy and destroying all imperfect life forms. It went around saying “Nomad must sterilize.” It was about to destroy the Enterprise and its collection of imperfect humans when Captain Kirk reasoned with Nomad and convinced it that it was imperfect. As a result, it was compelled to carry out against itself the same sentence it had carried out against other life forms—it had to “sterilize,” to rid the environment of itself. They beamed it off the ship while it kept repeating “Nomad must sterilize…sterilize…sterilize,” and then it blew up.

Exercise: Think of something you’ve been really bugged by recently in someone you know, some specific trait. Please go ahead and write it down here:

Now think of ways that you do something similar to what you are judging this person for. Can you think of anything you do that is remotely similar? If so, please write it down.

Now ask yourself: Has judging this person led you to see your corresponding traits more charitably or less charitably?

Finally, can you remember actually going on a “search and condemn” mission inside your mind, hunting for your traits or mistakes that resemble what you have been judging this person for? Has your “narrowed focus” on this person’s sins turned your eyes upon your own mistakes, which you have magnified and called your sins? Think carefully. It may only come to you after a few minutes.

Final exercise: Now let’s go back and do the forgiveness exercise for Lesson 134:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit, Who understands the meaning of forgiveness, “Let me perceive forgiveness as it is.”
  • Then choose a brother to forgive, under His direction. Ask Him which brother you should forgive right now.
  • Now catalogue this person’s “sins,” one by one (but keep from dwelling on any one of them). With each one, try to think of some version of that sin that you yourself do. Then write that version down in the space provided.
  • Then, when you are done writing, repeat to yourself the questions and follow each one with the two statements to the right. Realize that by condemning your brother for this specific thing, you will condemn yourself for your version of it. But you don’t have to do that. You can be free. And the price of your freedom is freeing him.
Do I want to condemn myself for: I will not lay this chain upon myself.












  • If you practice well, you will feel a burden lifting from you, perhaps even from your chest, as if chains are being lifted from your chest. Spend the remainder feeling liberated from the chains you tried to lay on your brother, but laid instead on yourself.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]