Judge not, that you be not judged.... Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Don't compare your inside to someone else's outside.
--All over the internet
The first quote needs no introduction. This passage, or at least the "Judge not" part, has got to be every bit as popular with non-Christians as John 3:16 is with Tim Tebow.
The second quote is a piece of pop wisdom I ran into thanks to the always-entertaining Susie Lloyd and liked. (I've gotten far less snobbish in my old age and no longer turn up my nose at wisdom that comes in pop clothing: it's all part of "Diligere veritatem omnem et in omnibus"--love all truth and love it in all things.)
Together, the two quotes draw our attention to the gaping void where our Socratic ignorance is supposed to be. We don't know that we don't know. It somehow escapes our attention that we're walking around with logs in our eyes. And let's not miss what He's implying here: He could have said a twig, or a pebble--but a whole log?
There is just no flattering way to interpret that one.
On the one hand, we're not even familiar with our own insides, but we assume we are; on the other, we may understand each other's outsides, but we mistake them for insides.
We run into problems coming and going: judging others too harshly and ourselves too leniently, but also the other way around.
It's fairly easy to see the sense in refraining from judging a stranger, or a passing acquaintance. Maybe we've never walked in his moccasins. But what if it's someone we know very, very well--someone we've grown up with, been married to for decades, or given birth to? Is it really possible to be so ignorant of the inner reality of another human being in this case?
Well, yes. Definitely. Caryll Houselander, straight-talking 20th-century mystic and poet, has this to say in her Reed of God
It is just as easy to come to know someone less and less through living in the same room as it is to know him more and more. This is because we usually judge people by our own reactions, fears and desires. We do not see them as separate people who possess their own soul and live their own lives, but as part of ourselves and our lives [emphasis added: how's that for hitting the personalist nail on the head?]; we attribute to them motives which we would have in the same circumstances.
When you share a room, it is yet more easy to judge, not only by your own motives, but by your own reactions....
You are tired; you discover that your room-mate is selfish, inconsiderate; she proves it by turning on the radio, banging the door, having a loud voice, and not being tired herself.
She is tired; and you are full of well-being; you are irritated to find how selfish she is: gloomy, depressing, a wet-blanket, painfully wanting in moral stamina.
What might be even less clear is that we don't even grasp what's transpiring in our own insides. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and sometimes that's not saying much. In C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, the senior devil gives his apprentice this advice:
You must bring him to a condition where he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of the facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.
So should we judge, or not? Can't we call good good, and evil evil? Can we affirm, say, that genocide is wrong? Do we need to walk in a genocidal maniac's moccasins for a day, or be free of all imperfection ourselves, to make a pronouncement like that? Long live the dictatorship of relativism?
We can and must judge actions. We do it all the time. No one could ever grow up, raise a child, run a business, or sustain a political order for five minutes without judging actions. It's the hearts of others we're supposed to leave to Someone Else.
So, we can breathe a sigh of relief, right? We need only concern ourselves with actions.
Let's see, then: we'll need to know the external state of affairs, the intrinsic nature of each act, the degree of freedom with which the subject performs it, the degree of knowledge of which he's capable, and any physiological conditions which might interfere with his perception or evaluative powers and exacerbate or mitigate his culpability. We should also be cognizant of any prejudice on our part, any moral obstacle that could be clouding our own perception, any lack of knowledge that might hinder our judgment...
Growing up, raising children, running businesses, and sustaining political orders ought to be a breeze, as long as we keep in mind this simple advice:
Or if you do, be vewy, vewy careful.