Let's begin with a short vignette. I know any number of people who drive fast on the highway. (That sounds vaguely Rain Man-esque, doesn't it?) These people seem to have an inner clock about how fast is "just right," and they expect to be able to drive at that speed without being impeded by motorists driving at, say, the speed limit. Take my wife, for example. (Please.) She seems to settle at somewhere between 75 and 80. So she'll come up on a car going 68 in the left lane and begin to betray annoyance. She'll talk through the windshield to the woman in front of us: "Why are you in the left lane? If you're going to go that speed, move over, lady!" So eventually "the lady" moves over, and my wife proceeds along at 78. Then, a few minutes later, someone comes up on my wife's tail, and now she's annoyed about that. Now she's talking into the rear-view mirror: "What, 80 isn't fast enough for you, buddy? Get off my tail." Sometimes, at her passive-aggressive best, she'll even slow down. One time she slowed down so much that we ended up getting passed on the right by a motorist she'd coaxed out of the left lane just moments earlier.
There's a point here, and it's not just about driving. The point is that we all get comfortable with our own foibles, or the degree of our foibles, and we excuse them (or at least accept them/rationalize them), despite being irate over the foibles of our neighbors. People who break the law by driving 78 get annoyed at people who break the law just a little more by driving 83. I know a woman who's had an abortion, who has all kinds of nasty things to say about another woman she knows who's had two abortions. The guy who overspends on an Audi costing $56,000 gets pissy about his neighbor's $98,000 Benz. The guy who enjoys farting around his girlfriend when he knows she hates it gets irate over the guy who smacks his girlfriend around now and then. The woman who cheats on her taxes scorns the woman who cheats on her husband. The woman who engages in an adulterous affair with a married man scorns the same married man who then cheats on her with someone else. The bar bully who likes to pick on the weak thinks the Jerry Sanduskys of the world should all be shot. The man who hunts deer for sport gets annoyed at the man who hunts humans for sport. (What's that you say? It's not the same thing at all! Bill Maher, among others, wouldn't agree.) The U.S. politician who condemns the killing of innocents in Sandy Hook favors greater trade relations with nations that use children as slave labor in dangerous working conditions.
I've tagged this "hypocrisy," but hypocrisy isn't really what's going on here. Maybe that last one, and the one about the woman who's sleeping with a married man, represent hypocrisy, but in most cases we're talking more about our all-too-human tendency to see things as apples-and-oranges when, in fact, all of this is really apples-to-apples at its core (ahem): We excuse the things that we do, the beliefs that we hold, while attacking others for the things that they do and/or believe. The whole thing is especially troublesome if one subscribes to a deterministic lens on life, as I do.
I realize that in writing a post like this I will be accused of selling moral relativism and amorality/immorality. Some may even dismiss this as the devil's handiwork...another attempt to undermine the (high) standards by which we all should live. I don't see it that way. I see it as a call for understanding. Take a second look at the people you've been judging. Give a bit more thought to the traits you find so "wrong" in others. Then take another look at yourself. That's all I'm asking.