What We Justify (and What We Don’t)

Looking at the clouds

Have you ever wondered why we try to justify some actions but not others?

Advertising serves one purpose only: to justify buying a product or service that satisfies a need or desire we may not even know we had.

News networks justify the need for 24 hour broadcast with an incessant stream of negativity that distorts our perception of reality.

Politicians perpetuate the same pointless rhetoric hiding behind fiscal responsibility.

These are a few examples of what we justify. Let’s explore our own actions and what we try to justify.

Before looking at the actions, I’d like to highlight a few meanings of justify that are useful in this context.

What does it mean to justify our actions?

When we need to justify our actions, it means we’re trying to do one or more of the following (all can be considered synonyms).

Rationalize: We need the action to make sense based on reasons we believe are good enough to warrant it.

Defend: We think the action we’re taking is the right (and the only possible) one for this situation. So we’re willing to defend it with all the mental and emotional arsenal we can muster.

Explain: If we feel the action we’re taking is opaque, we go on and on, trying to detail why it’s good and why it’s necessary.

All of the above and more mean one thing: We justify things that we don’t feel can stand on their own merit.

In other words, we tend to justify what doesn’t feel right on its own—something is off about it that needs further explanation or defending.

Why justify?

If I look at the things I tried to justify or observed others doing so, I can fairly say that they mostly relate to the following.

Morally/ethically questionable actions: When we are doing something that casts even a slight shadow of impropriety, we start defending and explaining. It can be something like downloading music online, taking stationary from the office, and could escalate to betrayal or personal vendettas.

Action opposes our truth: We all have tendencies and ways of doing things that come to us naturally. If we’re trying to do something that does not ring true to us, we will try to justify it as much as possible.

If a boss tells you to stab a coworker in the back, you’ll need to justify it before you can even contemplate taking action.

In this case, we’re trying to convince ourselves before convincing anyone else.

Destructive in nature: Any act of violence (physical or emotional) does not come naturally to us. I don’t think we can feel safe and want to hurt others. Or we can feel abundance and want to fight over resources. So we fabricate fear and scarcity to justify the actions.

In order to destroy, exploit, or control, we need to come up with more than a few reasons for doing it.

On the other hand, truthful actions come to us naturally. We won’t feel the need to defend or explain them. We let the actions speak for themselves.

What’s so bad about justifying?

One might ask so what? What’s wrong with justifying our actions?

It’s not the justifying that’s the issue. But what it leads to. Consider these points.

Ability to justify anything: Our mind is capable of justifying anything and everything. So it’s important to pay attention to what we’re trying to justify. Otherwise, we can do so many harmful things and hide behind our reasons.

The need to justify or explain an action can be an indication of how we inwardly feel about it.

Bias and judgment: When we justify, we polarize the actions that we choose to take (or not take). We defend our action as the right one and everything else as either irrelevant or wrong.

When we see the world through the judgment of our biased actions, we close ourselves off to other possibilities and alienate others.

Unnecessary pain and suffering: What we justify today we may regret tomorrow. If history can teach us anything, it’s that a lot of what we justified in the past did nothing more than add needless suffering of massive proportions.

One question that can be helpful in making a choice is: How far are we willing to go and justify in order to get what we want?

Letting go of the need to justify

Acting from a place of love and compassion doesn’t require a reason. No one asks for an explanation when we extend a loving or helping hand to someone.

We don’t explain why we love our families, or do the best we can at our work, or take care of a pet.

We can then conclude that the actions that support life and are in harmony with our truth are the ones that we’re naturally inclined to do.

Letting go of the need to justify and acting from a place of truth does not place judgment on the action we’re taking—good vs. evil, or right vs. wrong. It’s about looking within and doing what feels right intuitively without the need for further explanation.

If we let go of the need to justify, we’ll probably shed a lot of emotional stress and minimize unnecessary or painful actions. And in the process, we gain freedom to be who we truly are.

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