In the Bible, in the gospel of John, the Pharisees brought a woman charged with adultery to Jesus as an attempt to discredit him. They asked him to be the judge, and under Mosaic law, her punishment was stoning. In a crazy twist, Jesus said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and everybody got stumped and gave up, because they knew that they too were all guilty of sins.
Now I’m a diehard atheist, most people know that, but I recognize teachings that are just and right, regardless of their origin. Jesus’s entire argument hinged on calling out hypocrisy on all levels. I don’t think at any point is it asking to forgive crime and transgressions without punishment, but rather to approach them with both kindness and understanding. Naturally that’s often easier said than done.
I personally feel that people who focus on harsh punishments and “making people pay” for what they’ve done are participating in a form of scapegoating. They are basically offsetting their own guilt onto someone who has done worse in an effort to cleanse their sins, if only by comparison. Compare anyone to Hitler, and they’re a saint.
The thing is, you can’t offset guilt. It is what it is, and we’ve all been guilty of something at some point in our lives. Just because someone else has done worse, doesn’t mean we can escape our own transgressions. We still have to face them and deal with individual consequences.
Of course I’m only scratching the surface here. I’m also a believer that everything should be assessed case by case, and what stands true for one situation may be completely different in another. Think murder and self defense. Whether you shoot an innocent person or you shoot a man trying to kill you, you have killed someone. You can’t judge both of those situations solely on the fact that a person died by your hand; you have to take into account the situation itself. Sometimes that can be murky water.
We constantly see people judging each other on social media. I know I’m guilty of it. We judge celebrities, we judge politicians, we judge coworkers, friends, family, and on and on. We judge their little fuck ups, their mildly unacceptable quirks, their obvious shortcomings. All the while, we possess the same things.
In another biblical reference (so weird for me, I know) Jesus said that you must first remove the plank in your eye before removing the speck from your neighbor’s. The idea being that sure, you may see where someone fucked up and think “now let me tell you,” while you yourself have fucked up so much worse. These things all come back to the concept of refraining judgement and showing compassion and kindness. After all, we hope for the same when we fuck up, right?
Remember when I said judgment is like a form of scapegoating? What you need to understand about that is that your wrongdoing is not removed just because someone else was worse, and if the precedent of harsh punishment is set, the same will apply to you. Every time we set precedent for how we treat people, we are setting the precedent for ourselves. If you want forgiveness for the things you’ve done, you must be willing to give it to others.
I could write a book on my wrongdoings. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen, mistreated others, deliberately hurt people physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ve been a misogynist, I’ve been a racist, I’ve been a homophobe. I’ve neglected responsibilities, I’ve fallen short of expectations. I abused my body, and above all else, I abused the trust people had in me. I wouldn’t offset any of this even if I could, because it’s all mine and I take responsibility. I do my best not to be judgmental, because at my worst, I was a monster.
I know I’m starting to rant a bit, because that’s how I write. I do think it’s all relevant to the topic though. You don’t need to understand why people do things. You don’t need to assume you know the situation. All you need to do is stay your hand before you throw that stone, because you too are guilty of something.
You know what the thing about being guilty is? It’s the human condition. No one is free from it. Step off your soapbox and look at others for what they are: flawed and imperfect creatures, just like you. Some understanding goes a very long way.