Saturday, March 20, 2010

You're Only Angry 'Cause You Wish You Were In My Position

Have you ever heard some variation of the following statement?  Usually it's made in response to somebody criticizing someone famous for doing something:

"Don't be so critical.  You'd do the same thing if you were in his position."

There's a lot of wisdom in that.  It's the basic caution against hypocrisy.  I suppose it may even be a watered-down version of Jesus' teaching: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Most people are content to focus on the "judge not" part, but there's more to it than that.  See, I don't think that anybody who judges is automatically a hypocrite.  That's what the "lest ye be judged" part is for.  It means "you'd better be ready to back it up."  Perhaps a more relevant modern colloquialism would be "Don't write checks your butt can't cash."  Now, technically that could still be interpreted as the lone "don't judge" again, because butts can't cash checks -- but I think you get the gist of it.

Let's suppose nobody ever wrote or cashed checks.  That would have a bad effect on the economy, wouldn't it?  It would be isolationism; no business would ever get done.  The same can be said about judging.  If you never called anyone out on anything, you'd never have to answer for anything yourself, either.  You can avoid hypocrisy this way, but it's far more useful to actively avoid hypocrisy by striving to be consistent in your actions.  As with spending money, judging is a good thing, but only in moderation.  "Judge not, let ye be judged" doesn't mean you don't have standards; it means you do have standards, and you hold both yourself and others to those standards.

That being said, I also have to make an important distinction.  Judging, on a personal level (I'm not bringing courts or deities into this), should always be done from the perspective of "I have the potential to do this, and that's exactly why I know how important it is that you don't do it."  Not from the perspective of "I don't do this stuff, so that puts me in a position to tell you not to."  The latter is more common, unfortunately, and it's why judging has gotten such a bad rap. It's actually more hypocritical, even though it doesn't carry the outward appearance of hypocrisy, because the person is refusing to admit -- or at least emphasize -- that they're capable of doing the same thing.  That matters a lot more than what you actually have or haven't done, because that's largely just circumstantial, isn't it?

And there it is.  We shouldn't put so much stock in circumstances.  To use a recent example, Tiger Woods.  I've heard it said that I shouldn't judge him because if I had billions of dollars, I'd probably have women throwing themselves at me too, and I'd probably cave in to the temptation.  Is that true?  On a fundamental level, yes.  I likes me some womens.  But here's the thing: if -- God willing -- I ever were to find myself in such a position, I believe my words would come back to haunt me.  By criticizing what this guy did, and admitting that I'm capable of the same thing, I've set the bar higher for myself.  Whereas if I just say "I'd do the same thing," I've set the bar depressingly low.

I believe that progress only happens when we set the bar high for ourselves, and to do that, we can't shy away from criticism.  We also can't be hypocrites.  But those two things actually don't have a whole lot to do with each other.  Circumstances vary, but principles are constant, and they should be tested.  You don't have to have done better to criticize someone else's work or actions; you just have to be willing to do better.

When you "judge" someone, you're making a pact.  You're not necessarily saying you don't or wouldn't do something, but that you won't; and if you can't honestly say that, then yes, you need to either refrain from judging or take the opportunity to set yourself straight.

And that, my friends, is why I am allowed to argue on the internet.

1 comment:

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