More and more I become convinced that the biggest problem we have in American culture is our obsession with any sin that isn’t our own.
Cecil the Lion. Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. The entire GOP presidential field.
I get caught up in the hysteria. I’ve tweeted out things about certain cultural phenomena in an haughty, contemptuous way that only serves to reveal my self-ignorance. It’s a human reflex to see clearly the issue in someone else’s life while ignoring the massive dysfunction in your own.
But lately I’ve come to feel disgusted with myself when I point out the fallibility in others. I think of funny things all the time and normally don’t hesitate to share them; but lately, I find myself thinking more and more about the targets of my jokes. I think about their humanity. I think about what made them the way they are. I think about the burden some of them experience, of living under the never-ending spotlight.
That gets me thinking about myself. How would I hold up under scrutiny?
Truth is, I’m not sure. I know there would be plenty of people happy to take shots at the way I spend my time or my money, plenty of folks happy to pick apart everything from my choice of wardrobe to my choice of restaurants. I know there would be plenty of people just waiting for their chance to point out my stumbles and shout their disagreement with venomous glee.
I know this because it happens in everyday life anyway.
“You let your kids eat a McDonald’s?”
“Personally, I think anyone who buys non-organic milk is just abusing their children.”
“I would never allow my children to play in a public pool. Too many germs.”
Once upon a time we were a society that focused more on personal development within ourselves. We honored self-improvement. We praised folks who worked hard and overcame obstacles. We held people up for achieving things we had not yet attempted because they inspired us to want more.
Now we just tear folks down to our level. We don’t celebrate successes, we celebrate sins, because if there’s one thing we all know how to do equally well it’s screw things up. So we watch others. We wait. And when they succumb to being human, we pounce and pull down the rafters.
It’s easier to tear down someone else’s home than build our own.
And in a perverse way, we end up taking responsibility for the sins of others. We end up enabling the very destruction we celebrate, all because we get a kick out of the whole cycle. It sounds trite, but it’s true: if we would quit watching the Kardashians, the Duggers, the whomevers, they would fade away.
The same is true of the people around you. If we’ll quit looking for the sins of others, those sins will fade from our awareness. That’s not to say those folks will stop screwing up (they are human, after all), but we will stop looking for it.
And it’s a funny thing: when you quit looking for other people’s mistakes, when you quit obsessing over other people’s sins, two things happen. One, you start noticing things in your own life that need work, and two, you start developing a sense of compassion for others.
And that’s the key: we can’t have compassion for others if all we look for are their mistakes. And we can’t live our own lives to the fullest if we are too busy obsessing over someone else’s issues.
We are responsible for no sins but our own. That’s not to say we ignore evil when we see, or don’t confront sin when it bursts into our lives; we should be outraged at things like Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted children or a sudden resurgence in the KKK.
But that outrage will only mean something, will only have resonance, if it doesn’t flow from our mouths and keyboards in a constant stream. Think of it this way: my kids know when I’m upset because I don’t talk and act upset all the time. In fact, I spend most of my words encouraging them, loving them, asking them questions and letting them know how much I truly love them.
Thus, it is the rarity of my anger that provides it power.
Jesus was the same way. He didn’t hesitate to call out sin, and there’s only one instance of him flipping tables. Christ spent the majority of his ministry speaking truthfully in love, calling people to God’s best by living it out himself.
His, it would seem, is a much better way.