I am not a religious man, but my parents are strong Roman Catholics. I remember when I was growing up, my mother would read to me every night from a children’s illustrated version of the Bible. I looked forward to hearing tales of how the Israelites walked around the walls of Jericho with their trumpets, the rebirth of Lazarus or the reluctant prophet Jonah and his temporary stay in the belly of a whale.
I am occasionally reminded of some of the parables, like the story of the Prodigal Son or the builders who built their houses on foundation of rock and sand. But there is one sentence of the Bible that I am constantly reminded of, and that is Matthew 7:5:
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The Bible is not a unique source for this colloquial wisdom; expressions like those in glass houses should not throw stones echo the sentiment. Every day I see, read or hear someone as they break this beautiful commandment. And let’s face it, so do I. We are all hypocrites. How many times have you given someone advice and secretly think to yourself that you don’t follow those words?
The ugly Leviathan-sized hypocrisy monster shows itself most often in the form of another expression common in English: do as I say, not as I do. It always takes the form of how an idealised version of ourselves would handle some situation, anything from a problematic romantic entanglement to a moral quagmire of international politics. It always ignores our personal track record in similar situations by moving the goal posts so that the comparison can be discarded.
It, of course, would be hypocritical of me to chastise hypocrites when I myself am guilty of that at times. But I guess this is where Matthew 7:5 gives us hypocrites (of whom Matthew, as a human being, if he ever truly existed, would surely count among the ranks of) advice on what to do next: to first take the plank out of our own eye.
So how about we all leave the windy tower of virtue in which our ideal selves live in behind and enter the world where childishly binary choices are no longer possible?
You (and I) are sometimes a shitty person that at times does things that are inconsiderate. So are the people who you look up to, wether they’re inventors, business leaders, politicians, athletes, religious demagogues or your (and my) mother. So let’s together work on removing all those collective planks from our eyes, and who knows, maybe our neighbour’s speck will be gone too.