“I‘m not one to judge …” is the biggest lie in human life. We are walking, talking judgement machines, and to be fair it has its benefits for our survival. Judgement helps us read situations and avoid those that might be harmful to us, but having the ability is a different beast from exercising it and communicating it every chance you get.
Society goes through cycles in this regard, but we are currently in a state of constant and heightened public judgement. This is largely because the means now exist for individuals to raise their voice in judgement and be joined in it by the mob, free of traditional divides, geographical distances, and in some cases, even similar opinions on a broad range of things. We now latch on to the one microscopic argument placed before us and join into the virtual roar of dissenting voices without any real thought or consideration. The one thing that hasn’t changed, is that the most damaging voices calling people out on their character defects are confident in the belief that their belief will lead to the true enlightenment and salvation of the world from past evils. As always, as in every witch hunt in human history, the shortcomings of others are mostly called out by the morally superior and righteous of the time.
This intellectualized witch-hunt culture will some day be looked at in history with shame, but for now we’re stuck in it and the best we can do as thoughtful individuals, if we would care to be so, is to avoid the negative influence of the prevailing noisy malaise on our own individual and personal interactions and relationships. In short, how, and why, should you not be a self-righteous jerk when you’re stuck in the middle of the greatest self-righteous jerk stampede in history? Yes, this is one realm in which human development is consistent. The latest one is always the greatest.
I find that with most personal, human changes we wish to make in ourselves, the how doesn’t matter anywhere as much as the why. Once we have convinced ourselves that a change is good and right and to our benefit, we will generally find a way to make it happen, which best suits our personal temperament and situation.
The reasons to not be too proud of or enthusiastic in calling out others on their shortcomings and failures is three-fold:
- It’s not a challenge or an achievement
- It’s not all that helpful or effective
- It wont make you happy
Calling out other’s shortcomings isn’t difficult
In our self-righteous judgemental mode, we take a certain pride in identifying someone’s character flaws. We act as if it were the well-hidden secret tomb of a long lost civilisation that we alone uncovered using our wits, bravery, daring-do and masterful humanity. The truth is extremely far from that. It’s true that the majority of people are not the most perceptive bunch in reading other people, but it is also true that while we’ve dumbed ourselves down in that department through laziness and an uncaring attitude, reading people is hard-wired into us. We read people non-verbally even when we aren’t bothering to understand.
Since we all have that inherent ability, figuring out the most surface level shortcomings of someone we’re even just mildly acquainted with is a piece of cake. Literally anyone with half a brain and even less of an attention span can do it if they cared to. So what are you inordinately proud of?
Being able to spot the shortcomings of another person and then announce it to them, or a third person, or the world, is a trivial human ability. You can do the former pretty much by automated instinct, and you can do the latter because you can talk and use words like any other average 4-year-old. You haven’t achieved anything to be so wound up about, so best not bother unless you have a hell of a solid reason to.
Pointing out shortcomings doesn’t work
If calling out flaws is not an achievement, the other reason we the self-righteous do it is because “it is the right thing.” By which we mean we are right, a mostly hollow claim which we rationalise by saying we’re out to better the person and the World. Yes, we can be stupidly grandiose in this way, which would merely be a cute quirk if what we claim were true. It isn’t.
Pointing out someone’s shortcomings, if that analysis is true and not based completely on our personal biases, or intellectually or religiously institutionalised biases to begin with, rarely makes anyone or anything better. Why? Because right now, as I’m pointing out this whole potentially gaping hole in your understanding of yourself, most of you already have a hundred arguments ready about why nothing I’m saying applies to you. Because you’re different, you’re special, you’re not like all those others.
Your defenses are up and armed. What does this guy know anyway? He’s just some stupid guy who writes a blog. And he’s probably fat! And doesn’t like animals. Maybe he’s even … gasp … politically incorrect! And yes, that is you. Some part of you is thinking those things as you read this and that’s not just you. That’s me. That’s all of us.
Calling us out on our potential shortfalls only makes us defensive to a maniacal degree. We throw up walls, fences, force-fields, and anything to stop us from hearing you, and through that lens you look just like the villain of our favourite movie, or story, or past traumatic experience. Pointing out someone’s shortcomings isn’t likely to change them or the world, because in most cases, it just doesn’t work.
Calling them out on their shortcomings won’t make you happy
Beyond the lack of effectiveness or achievement involved, don’t make a habit of pointing out other people’s flaws for the most selfish reason, because there is no satisfaction in it. Blowing the whistle on the shortfalls of others will not make you happy, because your lack of happiness has nothing to do with them. However, you have to recognise that your lack of happiness is a large part of why you think calling out others and their flaws is a good thing. You do it because, as I’ve explained, it’s easy, it’s frivolous, and for a fleeting moment, pulling someone else down makes you feel an inch higher in your pointlessly competitive mind. Stridently telling everyone what’s wrong with them won’t make you happy because what makes you unhappy is not admitting to yourself what’s wrong with you, and the fact that you’re not doing anything to change it.
The worse part is, this disease is contagious. We’re all susceptible and victims of it. I’ve caught it before many times in the past and more recently. Our associations, big and small, make fault-finding a currency we grow comfortable with if we are not constantly vigilant and self-critical. Like a drug addiction, once you start trading in this insult and injure currency, you stop noticing you are doing it and all the damage it causes in yourself and the object of your criticisms. You become a part of the stampede of self-righteous jerks, and I’m here to tell you right now, to tell myself, you are better than this. Stop.
Calling all the “thems” out on their shortcomings and flaws won’t make you happy because it won’t fix all the things you know you fall short in. The only way to do that is to call yourself out on your bull-shit, and let everyone who hasn’t explicitly asked for your help in fixing themselves help themselves.
Want to talk shortcomings? Talk to yourself, and please, be gentle, be generous. The only way we change for the better is when we want the change ourselves. No one can make us go there. But once we do, we will realise that the world is just a collection of many of us, and changing it is just another gentle conversation with ourselves away.