The Parable of the Mote and the Beam – Domenico Fetti, 1619
Oh, it is an exceptionally depressing time for division and conflict. However, when was it not?
From the horrors of war (nothing new there, sadly) to petty nastiness on social media, I believe that similar processes operate in the human mind – or soul – in all arenas, from the intimate to the geo-political. Not a new observation, I agree. A psychotherapist might say that conflicts occur because of projection, or the result of the maternal bond being broken too early; a Marxist might say that capitalism has not yet collapsed under the weight of its own contradiction; a feminist might say that this is because of patriarchy and we should just put women in charge of everything and then everything would be all right again. A pacifist….
I might go on but essentially my point is that nobody actually knows and nobody has the solution… except that some teachers (and the Son of God) have repeatedly made the point throughout history that we must try to understand another’s position. That we must put ourselves in the place of others. That we must give people the benefit of the doubt. That we must show restraint and discretion. That action without wisdom and discernment is often foolish. Someone I knew once would always accuse others of ‘lashing out’ in arguments. Thinking about it ten years later, the physicality of that phrase is telling.
To use another materialist analogy, an essential woodworking aphorism: “Measure thrice, check twice, cut once”. Excellent advice for all areas of life.
I am not much of a mystic. I am a pragmatist – I am keen to know what works. Experience, ‘that most brutal of teachers’ (CS Lewis), has taught me that judgement and thoughtless action are not always the best strategies. And always seeing ‘it’ as ‘their’ fault is the surest way to Hell (here or in the afterlife) for all of us and for future generations.
To use a local example: some Catholics have taken issue with the strand of Catholicism in Britain which has been tirelessly promoting female ordination, recognition of same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose for around forty or fifty years. With no success, but you have to admire them for trying. The point I remembered yesterday in a little exchange with a good and orthodox writer about this is that I have met many of these ‘kind’ of people in other settings: they are for peace, for example, and for social justice and help to the poor. They are as kind as they can be and they believe in non-violence. They are, on the whole, good people, whether or not they are useful idiots. ‘They’ are not ‘them’. They think that ‘traddies’ are ‘them’.
Here is a study from the US National Institute of Health claiming that a process of self-justification and rationalisation leads to an increase in immoral actions. They call it ‘moral credentialling’. I think the Son of God said it better, though. (I am feeling ecumenical today so am using the KJV):
Gospel of Matthew: 7 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Proverbs is also an excellent read.
[UPDATE: His Holiness’s homily for 13 September 2013. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/09/13/people-who-gossip-are-cowards-and-hypocrites-says-pope-francis/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter]