I have been given a whole lot of food for thought recently on the question of judging other people. The details aren't really here nor there; suffice it to say that events have given me plenty of opportunity to sit around and say, "Boy, you are one sorry excuse for a human being," or, "You are so wrong, it can't ever be made right." The wreckage of human lives that stares at us as we survey what has been wrought by the actions of others make it so easy to insist that the actions of others are so clearly morally unjustifiable as to make judging them not only easy but necessary.
Except, I caught myself over this past week doing that same thing, only to realize later I was doing so on limited information, and without regard to perspective.
Similarly, if I were honest enough about my own life - all of it, not just the little chunk in which I currently reside - I would have to admit that I haven't exactly always left smiles behind when I rode in to the sunset. Quite the contrary.
Whether in interpersonal relations or on a social/political level, judging actions as morally vicious is usually easy for those who have reached the maturity level of a six-year-old. Far more difficult, it seems to me, is to address the thornier issue of "What do we do now?"
Back in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, you could hear right-wingers carry on about "evil doers", and how liberals feared calling the attacks "evil". My response, then and now, is simple - so what? Calling them evil isn't a policy response; it's an act of rage against the pain one feels. As a society, we had to act, not out of fear and rage, but with deliberation, caution, and a sense of our own interests and limited capacity to alter certain realities in the world. We did none of those things and continue to live with the consequences.
I refuse to sit around and judge the world, precisely because, first, I am as much at fault as those to whom others would point as the culprit. Second, being hardly innocent myself, the issue isn't guilt or innocent, or even responsibility, but how do we go about making things better. How do I change my decision-making so I don't leave a mess behind when I move on in life? How do we as a community make life easier for those for whom it currently is a struggle? While I recognize that diagnosing the problem is a necessary part of finding a solution, it is precisely here - at the level of diagnostics - that I find the morality trap far too easy to fall in to (and, yes, I ended that sentence with a double preposition . . .). We can't just fault "white culture" or "imperialism" or "industrial society" and leave it there, as if we aren't all of us participants in these things, aiding and abetting the many evils that beset our world.
Withdrawal in to purposeful communities outside these realms is only an evasion of responsibility, in my opinion; while they may offer examples of solutions, they are far too often done with the express purpose of defining an "us" over against a compromised "them" who still participate in the evils around us. Thus so self-defined as removed from the problem, such persons can sit on their moral high-horse and pronounce judgment on the rest of us.
In my opinion, such persons are cowards. It is far more difficult, and far more noble, to accept the reality that all of us - and I do mean all - are morally compromised in some way, and we owe it to ourselves and to the world around us to learn from the multiple errors in our lives. We need to live a little more honestly, love a little more openly, give much more freely, and refuse to set ourselves up as some kind of judge over the lives of others.
Moving forward means moving forward with the acceptance of our own limitations, our own errors, and, yes, even our own contribution to the evils in the world around us. Since I'm as much at fault as anyone else, since I've hurt others many times in my life, and while I regret it I cannot go back and change that hurt, one thing I can do is live a little more deliberately. Part of the deliberation includes refusing to judge others precisely because I've been there and done that.