Obviously you should worry about yourself first. You can’t change the world (nor perhaps should you even want to, but that’s a philosophical issue that we can address later). But you can change yourself.
Obviously the beam in my own eye is much greater than the mote in my brother’s eye. “But still,” says the argumentative mind, “the countless motes in my many brothers’ eyes add up to more than my own beam! They are in need of correction!” No matter how great the beam in my eye is, it will be less than the billions of motes added up together. And furthermore, I can easily convince myself that I’m not the only one with a beam. Surely the “mote” is a rhetorical mote. Don’t we all have beams? Who among us has only a mere mote? I personally have a massive beam (several in fact!), stuck right in both eyeballs. But surely also so do many (if not all) of my brothers. Don’t you?
In spiritual terms it is easy to grasp that one should work on one’s own spirit before worrying about anyone else’s. In practical terms, it does not often feel so easy. If I find a great sin being committed all around me, should I not worry about it? Just because I, too, am sinful, does that take away my right — indeed my duty — to fight against the wrong I see?
Specifics might help. Let’s take a case that’s typical, though by no means exclusive nor exhaustive. My own politics, such as they are, are so far to the right as to be basically off the spectrum. In fact, I loathe the right-left dichotomy because I feel it gives the modern left a false legitimacy to speak of it in such terms. (I speak of the case here in America which is my home country, though I imagine what I say applies to most anyone, mutatis mutandis.) If, in my own culture, among those I love and care for, I find falsehood, murder, deception, self-worship and ugliness, should I remain silent?
Difficult! The problem is so obvious that I quail to even spell it out. I am not holy, and therefore I have no call to impel others to holiness. Who am I do to such a thing! And yet I know that no mere man is wholly without blame. If we use the standard of strict blamelessness to decide who is worthy of imposing worldly changes, then we are left with no course of action when confronted with obvious wickedness. Show me the man without blame, please. And so then am I not to speak out against evil when I see it just because I know the evil that dwells in my own soul?
Sharper specificity: I hate multi-culti liberalism, and I hate abortion. (Incidentally and on a personal note, I’m neither a Republican, nor a Catholic… still I find these things evil: creepingly evil in the first case, and screamingly evil in the second case.) But at the same time I’m guilty of all kinds of deception, concupiscence, and general self-seeking. Really and honestly, I have no standing to call another human being “bad.”
And yet, very often their actions are bad! Bad enough to make my own twisted soul revolt in protest! Shall I become a relativist and say there is no such thing as right and wrong? A hateful thought!
Why even write a blog? Well, in this case, as I say in my “ABOUT” page, I mainly write this to spell out clearly for myself what is True. I have made and will continue to make many mistakes. Publishing what I write and not worrying about fame or “hits” is the only thing that will keep me honest. But in the course of writing, it’s inevitable that I will attack things that I see as evil. And the whole time I am doing so, I will still continue being guilty of evil myself.
The only way out is a compromise. I’m sure most people reading this will have seen it coming from the moment they saw the title of this post. Let me try and articulate the compromise as best I can now:
What I do with my own time, my body, my words, my soul, and my spirit, is what really matters. What you do with your own is what matters for you, reader, and it is all that has mattered for any man that has ever lived. Meanwhile, here on earth, as we all struggle along half-blind, we must do our humble best. Speaking out against evil is something we must do. And yet every time we speak out, we must use it as a chance to turn the glass back at our own faces.
Don’t give up on either count. Don’t stop demolishing the beam; and don’t stop calling it like you see it either. When it comes to the world, we must speak with fiery and righteous breath. When it comes to the self, we must bow our heads and be humble. Finding the balance along that razor’s edge is difficult. When in doubt, I should forgive my brothers and blame myself.
Ah, what a liberating thing to say! Father Zossima, speak for me, please.