“… I suggest one form of rationing which we ought to impose on ourselves. Abstain from all thinking about other people’s faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them. Whenever the thoughts come unnecessarily into one’s mind, why not simply shove them away? And think of one’s own faults instead? For there, with God’s help, one can do something. Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.”C.S. Lewis, “The Trouble With ‘X'”
Most of us don’t want to face our faults. Yet, we love thinking about others’ faults. We think about them, obsess about them, gossip about them, cherish them as “delicious morsels” (Proverbs 26:22). Why? Because others’ faults justify, relativize, and make easier to ignore our own.
“I’m not that bad.” “At least I’m not as bad as him.”
C.S. Lewis warns us that this is bad for our souls. Not only does this dynamic open us to the charge of hypocrisy (Matt. 7:3-5); but it makes it hard for us to grow.
If you’re reading a book, or listening to a sermon, and all you can think about is “How ________ really needs to hear this, or read this.” And your name isn’t the person you’re thinking about–then there’s work to do. This is not to say that we shouldn’t share things we find helpful with our family and friends. It is to say that this is a very common defense mechanism that can easily allow us to skip the question: “How does this apply to me?”
This is not to say that we shouldn’t confront one another–we must if we are going to live in growing relationships. Lewis is certainly not advocating for a non-confrontational culture. Rather, he’s warning against the pernicious self-righteousness that comes from filling one’s thought life with other people’s faults, while ignoring one’s own.