Photo by daisybush
Bear with me while I make an over-generalization about American society: We essentially reward people who are good at hiding the socially unacceptable things they do.
I’m not saying we necessarily approve of behaviors that are considered socially unacceptable. If asked outright, most Americans would say they are firmly opposed to things like extramarital affairs, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. But when it gets down to it, I think we’re more concerned with appearances than with the existence of an actual problem.
We embrace a “what I don’t know won’t hurt me” approach, and an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. Those who aren’t cautious enough, or who chose to live their life in the open rather than be artfully sneaky, are raked over the coals.
Not sure you agree? Think of this: Most parents don’t want their teenagers to be having sex. But when it gets down to it, the real fear is pregnancy and STDs. So, as long as there’s no evidence of sex, that’s good enough for the upstanding adults of the community. They’re able to continue on in ignorant blissfulness, pretending it’s not really an issue.
Think about the large number of people who are morally against same-sex relationships. They don’t want gay people in the military, or teaching their children, or worshiping and taking communion in most churches. But if you’re successful in hiding the fact that you’re a homosexual, all is well. Don’t ask, don’t tell. What we don’t know won’t hurt us. If you appear to be “one of us,” by all means, take communion AND teach Sunday School! You can even go to Iraq and die for our country!
What about the person who gambles in some seedy establishment and loses thousands? As long as we don’t have to witness their sad life and hear their sad tale, all is fine. But if you spend the weekend at the Bellagio in Vegas and come home with modest winnings, you’re admirable.
And what about the well-known blogger, who tells an honest, funny tale about a really chaotic morning and four sips of wine she had in the midst of it all? She is seen as shameful. She drank in the morning, and then got in her car and drove to work. Of course, lots of people are abusing alcohol throughout the day, every day, but as long as they don’t drink in front of people at inappropriate times—and especially if they don’t write about it in their blog—they’re fine.
The problem with selective vision and judgment
I think all kinds of people are prone to judging what’s in front of us, as plain as day. It makes sense, after all—we can’t exactly be judgmental about things we don’t even know about.
But we’re really not so naive. We know, deep down inside, that all kinds of things we’d rather not know about are in fact happening. All around us, all the time.
Maybe that’s what we should really be worried about—the negative stuff that goes on every day behind closed doors. Maybe that’s the behavior that really hurts people, and can lead to more deeply rooted abuses that are much more difficult to emerge from.
Maybe those of us walking around in our protected dream worlds would be much better off if we considered the possibility of a big picture, and stopped directing all our anger and fear at the few problems and people we can see.
And maybe this is why, in Matthew 7, Jesus says “Do not judge.” It’s not our job. It’s not what we were created and put into community for. Besides that, we’re obviously really terrible at it.