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But Whos Judging

by Amanda Pagliarini

March 9,2010

One hundred sixty years ago this month, Nathaniel Hawthorne first published The Scarlet Letter.  Despite the passing of a century and a half, it seems much of America still wishes to issue public brandings. 

In The Charlotte Observer’s recent coverage of the saga that is Tiger Woods’ sex life, comments from readers have included:

'[He] will still act in his arrogant ignorant way because that is the way he has been most of his adult life.'
'His apology did not mean a thing. However repentance would mean everything.'
'Tiger is such an egomaniac, like Gov. Sandford [sic], John Edwards…'

Being judgmental makes me nervous.  One of many lessons I've learned is that I become what I judge.  Or worse– the qualities I judge in others are often the traits that I am blindly unaware I also possess.  In my younger days, sitting around with friends and casting judgments on those around us was a recreational, self-inflating sport I resorted to when I had nothing better to say.  But invariably, every single thing I can recall judging in another, verbalized or not, I have been doomed to repeat in my own life. 

As a woman, it seems I owe it to my gender to condemn Tiger Woods.  And it would seem that if there were ever a time to cast stones freely without fear of perpetuating my cycle of becoming what I judge, this would be the instance.  But what am I really judging in Tiger?  It’s not the act of sexual conquest.  It’s the repeated acts of selfishness; and a blatant disregard for the happiness and well-being of his family.  It’s the attitude that his needs came first without concern of who would be left in his wake.  Then I think of actions I’m capable of, realistic to my life: frivolous and irresponsible spending, imposing my will on others, day-to-day deceits, having sex with my significant other only when it suits me and my mood and my energy level, general thoughtlessness, denying my presence to those who wish for it, cutting remarks, invoking worry with my chronic lack of communication, not being an active participant in my relationships.  Are these not acts of selfishness performed with a blatant disregard for the people in my life?

Judgment separates us from one another.  It says, I’m not like you.  I’m better than you, I’m worse than you, I’m smarter than you, I’m hipper than you, but I’m not like you. For if I had to identify with you,  I might have to face my own humanity and its capacity, and likeliness, for similar error.  It would be easy and convenient to justify that the actions I’m capable of committing are far less severe than the actions of Mr. Woods. But selfishness is selfishness. I wouldn’t award anyone points for only being moderately thoughtless or dismissive of me. 

The theme of sin and knowledge pervades Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Though they are forced to pay the personal and public consequences of their sins, his characters are also afforded the opportunity to experience life in a new way.  For Hester, being issued the scarlet letter grants her 'a passport into regions where other women dared not tread,' that being the ability to question her society. As for the Reverend Dimmesdale, his sin allows him to connect with the common man, giving him 'sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrates in unison with theirs.'

Perhaps our sins and misgivings are a part of our journey to knowledge and understanding of ourselves and others.  Perhaps there is knowledge to be gained when we are an unfortunate casualty of the sins of another.  Maybe Tiger’s fall from the pedestal we held him to was a part of his journey to rejoin the common man. Perhaps our role as fellow human beings is not to judge what someone else’s journey should look like, and to see our own capacities for error.  After all, judgment is a boomerang I’ve never been able to duck.

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