"There, but for the grace of God, go I"
Time for The Contrarian again, I think I love this guy. John Cloud's column The Psychology of Hypocrisy in 9/17's TIME got me thinking for a couple days. The subtitle is: "Why we're wrong to assume that Larry Craig and other fallen moralizers are hypocrites."
Huh. I dug in, sure I would not be convinced. But Cloud makes the argument that hypocrisy might on occasion stem from a sense of guilt. In other words, one feels guilty over one's own hidden perceived "sin," so therefore spends public effort trying to stamp it out as some sort of penance. Is that hypocrisy? Or just trying make up for the good you're not doing?
It's really made me question my own lack of trying to stamp out sin in others. I simply don't try to force anyone else to conform to my own definition of "good."
Now, I used to. In my early twenties, I was quite conservative. All my own ducks were in a row, so to speak, with a safe little job at my church, marriage to a brilliant engineer, a contained, appreciating condo in the outlying areas of a metropolis, and a firm devotion to Ronald Reagan and trickle down economics. I didn't drink, smoke, do drugs, and all my sex was consecrated by marriage. I thought nothing of telling my wayward friends and family members just why their lives were such a mess. If only they'd walk the straight and narrow, they'd be perfectly happy. I was a stalwart example of holier-than-thou. I shudder to think now how insufferable I must have been.
Well, it didn't take that long for my façade to crack. I didn't realize it, but it was all outward appearances. My unhappiness eventually caught up with me, and I began to experiment with ways to be happy that were decidedly outside the boundaries I'd set up for myself. Mistakes were made, lessons learned. The lessons became so valuable to me that I began to appreciate the process. I had to forgive myself frequently, but I finally became a real, three-dimensional person. By the time Bill Clinton came along, I had freed myself to a degree and was a single mother. My vote for him was less about him and more about anger at Dan Quayle.
It was around this point that I discovered I could no longer tell anyone else how to live. I mean, what did I know? I truly had no idea what path another needed to take to learn the lessons that would bring them into themselves. I stopped talking and began listening.
Friends began to notice the change in me. My best guy friend finally came out to me, after 17 years. My best girlfriend took me in when I fled, pregnant, across country to Los Angeles, and I was able to be supportive to her as she ditched her loser long-time boyfriend and met the man of her dreams. My family relationships smoothed out as well. I was just less of a jerk.
So now I'm wondering if I've gone too far the other way. Am I able to point out evil when necessary? When is it necessary to point it out? And what should my position be?
There are a lot of problems in this world, and perhaps they need voices to combat them. But the voices need to be un-hypocritical. And what that means to me is, I need to be mindful, not of my own righteousness, but of my own flaws before I speak up. Even as I'm working to correct something, my inner refrain needs to be, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." And that prayer might be the one that saves us from hypocrisy. Given similar circumstances or options, I might have made the same choices, so who am I to judge? My goal should be only to correct with understanding and love.
The column from TIME made me think that perhaps it's self-hatred that makes these vocal opponents on social issues so vituperative. In fact, the stridency of their rhetoric might be an indicator of an inner struggle they are hiding—and hiding from. I can have compassion on that, because I've done that. I've always hated hypocrisy, wherever I've found it, but now perhaps I can understand it a bit more.
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