‘Don’t judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him’.
4th November 2020
‘Don’t judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him’. (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg 1742-99)
This quotation puts me in mind of a verse in the Bible from the Gospel of Matthew 7:16 ‘You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?’
In other words what matters more is how a person acts and that is a better judge of true character than simply what they may say. A person’s actions may be a better clue to their real opinions.
And we are certainly living at a time in which judgement is quickly pronounced on those whose opinions do not accord with our own or the received wisdom of our times. Judgement is often swift and harsh as those casualties of abuse on twitter show, as well as towards people finding that they are ‘no platformed’ from expressing particular opinions.
Certain opinions expressed lead to condemnation of individuals as nothing else is seen to matter, yet what does such swift judgment tell us about the characters of those who condemn? What are their opinions making of them? Arguably if they do not lead to a more compassionate, understanding response to others, might there be something amiss?
This quotation suggests that we look closer at the life of a person as a whole. While a person may say the ‘right’ things, is there a consistency with what they say and what they do? Do they walk the walk as well as talk the talk? They may do, but I have also frequently been taught a lesson in humility when encountering those whose opinions may not fit with my sensibilities, but then seem to be living a life admirable in many ways, that put me to shame.
As I write, this America and indeed the world, are awaiting the results of the Presidential election. The opinions expressed by Donald Trump challenge many a liberal sensibility yet something about him speaks to a considerable number of voters. We would do well to seek to understand rather than simply judge.
The trouble is we like people and things simply good or bad and the challenge is to move beyond that to a more nuanced understanding. This week we perhaps should reflect on how we might hold back on simple judgements of people’s opinions and look at the life that a person is living, because or in spite of them.