Haven’t You Done That Before?

It is certainly true that people can do some awful things to each other. We hear of a trusted representative who is stealing from their clients. We hear of a man who has been leading a second life, even starting a second family. We hear of a woman who commits an unspeakable crime. 

These gross violations of morality and law do exist. They are things we would never do, we’d never even consider doing them. However, the truth is that most of the wrongs committed day to day are done by ordinary people in ordinary ways. Even most of the wrongs done to us are not done with any particular malice, but instead stem from ignorance or fatigue or simple selfishness. Moreover, most of them are mistakes we have made ourselves in the distant or not so distant past. As Seneca writes:

“A good look at ourselves will make us more temperate if we ask…‘Haven’t we ourselves also done something like that? Haven’t we gone astray in the same way? Does condemning these things really benefit us?’”

When we realize that more errors are relatable and human, we are more likely to understand and forgive. We will not take personally a slight or a screw-up we have been guilty of ourselves—because we remember that when we did it, it was not personal or even intentional. When we recall how dumb we were when we were young, we won’t be so quick to judge the generation coming after us. When we consider all the current beliefs we will be judged for by that generation, perhaps we can be a little more tolerant of the older generation in front of us. 

We’ve all messed up. We will all continue to mess up. Does it really benefit us—is it really fair—to go around condemning people for mistakes we’ve made ourselves? For going astray as we have gone astray?

No. It doesn’t. 

P.S. This was originally sent on July 23, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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