|We could all benefit from a good look in the mirror.|
Let's begin with a brief vignette. I know any number of people who drive fast on the highway. (That sounds so 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 plodding along at, say, the actual speed limit. Take my wife, for example. (And where is Henny Youngman when you need him?) On a typical road trip, she tends to settle at somewhere between 75 and 80, closer to the latter. So she'll zoom up on a car doing 68 in the left lane and begin to sigh and mutter and otherwise make an elaborate, theatrical show of demonstrating her annoyance. She'll even yell 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 sighing and muttering and just generally annoyed about that. Now her eyes are glancing upward and slightly to the right as she complains into the rear-view mirror:
Sometimes, at her passive-aggressive best, she'll slow down or even brake-check her tormentor. 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. I thought that was pretty funny. My wife did not.
"What, 80 isn't fast enough for you, buddy? Get off my tail, dammit!"
There's a point here, and it goes way beyond our driving habits. The point is that the virulent narcissism fomented by the self-esteem movement and all that talk of Personal Empowerment over the past generation has only served to exacerbate one of man's very worst tendencies. You see, we all get comfortable with our own foibles, and we excuse them (or at least make peace with them), despite being irate over our neighbors' foibles. People like my wife, who break the law by driving 78, get annoyed at people who break the law just a little more by driving 83. And it doesn't stop there, of course:
I know a woman who's had an abortion, who has nothing but nasty things to say about another woman she knows who's had two abortions.
The Democrat who spends $56,000 on an Audi gets pissy about his GOP neighbor's $98,000 Benz.
The guy who enjoys farting around his girlfriend when he knows she hates it is infuriated by the guy who pushes his girlfriend around now and then.
The guy who pushes his girlfriend now and then around wants to beat the tar out of Ray Rice.
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.
The bar bully who likes to pick on the weak thinks the Jerry Sanduskys of the world should all be shot.
The couple who made a killing in foreclosures shake their heads at the teenagers who rob the donate-to-charity jar in the 7-Eleven down the corner or the guy breaking open graves to rob jewelry from corpses.
The man who hunts deer for sport gets annoyed at the man who hunts humans for sport.
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 abysmally dangerous working conditions.
The U.S. politician who condemns the killing of innocents in Sandy Hook favors expanded drone strikes to kill members of ISIS, and if there's collateral damage, so be it.
I've tagged this post as "hypocrisy," but hypocrisy isn't really what's going on here, deep-down. Sure, a few of these juxtapositions represent hypocrisy, but in most cases we're really talking more about an all-too-human tendency to see things as apples-and-oranges when, in fact, all of this is 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. It's especially troublesome if one subscribes to a deterministic lens on life, as I do. Because at the end of the day, we're all stuck with who we are...until we become something else, which is a process that happens, if it happens, entirely on its own.
I realize that in writing a post like this I'll 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—and also for recognition of what that endless ambient reinforcement of self-love has done to our ability to step outside ourselves for a moment and more objectively scrutinize our own behaviors. (This sense of entitlement and concomitant blindness to our own flaws can result in situations that are excruciating in their irony. In 2013 a former student at Lehigh, where I occasionally teach, sued the college for giving her a grade that prevented her from getting certified as a mental-health counselor. Apparently she did not think that her histrionic outbursts in class should count against her readiness to take a position in that field.) Some of us feel fully entitled to posit our own contrarian views of reality, in reproach to what science and all other evidence suggests. And some of us even stand ready to defend our solipsistic world-views at great costs to ourselves and (innocent) others.
So please resolve to take a second look at the people you've been judging and dismissing. 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.