The Futility of Finger-Pointing

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Why do you spot the splinter in your brother’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, allow me to extract the splinter form your eye,” when you yourself don’t see the log in your eye? Hypocrite! First extract the log from your eye! Then you can see clearly enough to extract the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6: 41-2

We see the blindness in others, says Jesus, much more readily than we recognize it in ourselves. As a result, it well may be that many of the world’s conflicts and problems arise through the attempt, in our blindness, to “extract the splinter” from the eyes of others without awareness of the “log” in our own. Jesus tells us that our judgments are inevitably flawed. The reason they are flawed is because, as Adrian van Kaam writes, human beings are essentially “perspectival.” We see, and so we judge, from a very limited perspective. That perspective is constituted, in large part, by our unconscious needs and drives. Thus, the very ways that we see the world are created, in large part, by the reality of our blindness.

The very purpose of human education and formation is to enlarge our perspective — not to more deeply indoctrinate us in our prejudices. This requires growth in discipleship. “A disciple is not above the teacher. But when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6: 40) We are told in the gospels that to be a disciple is to know that we have but one teacher. It is that teacher alone who knows the way for us, and so it is in humble submission to the Teacher’s word and will that we begin to truly see. It is not easy for us to forsake our own perspective for one that inherently seems and feels to be far too much for us, yet this is the meaning of living “by faith.”

How do we become “fully trained” as a disciple? How do we pass from the arrogance of our limited perspective to being a disciple of the truth? In words just preceding the verses of today’s gospel selection, Jesus admonishes us: “Do not judge and you will not be judged.” A step on the way to discipleship, then, is to begin to practice “not judging.” In truth, we cannot live without a form of judging. Moment to moment we must make decisions about which choice to make, which road to take. We must judge, with our limited capacity, what is good or at least better for ourselves and others. To cease choosing, and so judging, would be to deny the very gift and responsibility of free will.

So, what does Jesus mean that we are not to judge, lest we be judged? In part, this has to mean that we shall be judged in the manner in which we judge. “By the measure you use to measure, you will be measured in return.” (Luke 6: 38) In terms of our own formation, we could say that to grow in recognition of the way that we judge ourselves and others may well help us realize the measure of our own blindness. We all know from experience that there are human behaviors and foibles that we are able to experience with a fair degree of patience and compassion. There are always others, however, where we experience spontaneously angry, fearful, and harsh reactions. Most often the reason for the latter reaction is that the words or behaviors of the other have triggered an unconscious and unattended to conflict within ourselves. Perhaps we could paraphrase Jesus’ teaching by saying that when we experience a cruel and harsh judgment of another, we should, before reacting, first look for the log in our own eye.

Currently we are suffering through a campaign for President in the United States which consists almost totally of vilification of the opposition candidate. In truth, however, this is the case because honest self-appraisal and humble recognition of the complexity of life and motive is not an effective political strategy. We tend to prefer the blindness of certainty to the vision of humility. At such moments of political paralysis such as we are currently experiencing, the question arises about the very feasibility of “government of, by, and for the people.”  For, a government of, by, and for the people means governing from a great diversity of perspectives. To hold arrogantly to each one’s blind perspective is a recipe for paralysis and inaction. It is only by recognizing that the truth is not something that any one perspective can contain. It is by realizing that there is but One who is teacher and Lord and by acting and choosing out of that humble recognition that the aspiration of “out of many, one” can be even begin to be approached. Dialogue, collaboration, and consensus requires an openness to the truth of the other’s perspective.

For human beings arrogance in judgment (of others or oneself) and violence are inextricably intertwined. In our blindness there must always be blame, of ourselves or others, for everything that happens. The disciple of the Lord and of reality, however, slowly attempts to be a student of reality, rather than its judge and master. Instead of attributing blame, we can rather become a student of what is, allowing ourselves to learn and to change in whatever ways life is calling us to do so. In many ways, it is easier to blame ourselves or others than to dispose ourselves to widen our perspective and to reform our dispositions. In judging and blaming, we keep the world and its mystery confined to the limits of our own awareness and understanding. The broadening of those limits requires of us, first of all, that we discipline our tendency to judge arrogantly and absolutely.

Small minded people habitually reproach others for their own misfortunes. Average people reproach themselves. Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone is foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming, whether it be others or oneself.

One of the signs of the dawning of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame. We see the futility of finger-pointing. The more we examine our attitudes and work on ourselves, the less we are apt to be swept away by stormy emotional reactions in which we seek easy explanations for unbidden events. 

Things simply are what they are. Other people think what they will think; it is of no concern to us. No shame. No blame.

Epictetus, The Art of Living, A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell, p. 11.

 

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