In their classic anti-establishment rap “Fight For Your Right,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act the Beastie Boys sang the following lyrics: “Your Pop caught you smoking, and he said, “No way!” / That hypocrite smokes two packs a day .” This particular song is an example of a very common sentiment that those who have a particular struggle have no moral credibility to condemn or discipline the same sorts of behaviors that they struggle with. This applies to the fictional high schoolers in the song, for whom it is illegal to smoke (while it is legal to smoke for the father) suggesting that the Beastie Boys have adopted a faux-Kantian view of morality that does not recognize any sort of age restrictions on behaviors that they want to do, but rather assumes that what is good for an adult is good for anyone to indulge in.
Yet there is another motive, besides a desire to protect legal standards of behavior (much less external moral standards of behavior) that would lead someone to abhor behavior that they struggle with. Those who are in the grips of terrible addictions and who have committed grave wrongs are those who are best equipped to recognize the negative effects of foolish experimentation with dangerous behaviors. We all blunder and stumble in many ways, some of them known only to ourselves and God, and some of them so obvious that they cannot be hidden, but which people politely gossip about rather than tell to our face in an effort to keep up the appearance of civility even as they think and talk poorly of in private. We may so deeply love others, and feel so distressed by our own struggles and mistakes, that we wish others to learn from our mistakes rather than to repeat them.
This is especially true when it comes to the relationship between parents and children. Since our examples speak far louder than our words, as much as we wish it was otherwise, parents who struggle with immoral behaviors (like smoking, among many other examples) face a steep difficulty in encouraging moral virtue among their offspring. Like the Beastie Boys, many young people feel as if others are hypocrites for preaching a virtue that they do not necessarily possess, not realizing that those in the grips of addictions and the repercussions of misbehavior (some of which last a lifetime) will wish a better fate for their children out of love, not wanting their children to suffer as they have because of their mistakes. All too often, though, people can see those mistakes as “fun” and think that adults are simply trying to deny them the chance to have fun rather than saving them from scars and suffering and anguish, and possibly even death.
There are times in life when scars can be immensely attractive. I remember meeting one young lady and the first day I ever met her she showed me some injuries she had gotten recently, and I must say that I found it oddly but intensely attractive. In due time, and in my own way, I showed her some of the scars of my own life (of which there are many), as if we were two children playing show and tell in the hope that we had found kindred souls who would see our scars and wounds and still love us anyway, even knowing our damages. Despite our wounds, despite our feelings of brokenness, some of us still desire to be whole, and are filled with an unquenchable yearning and an inexpressible longing to feel innocent and safe and loved, to see what is broken be repaired, to see what was stolen be returned, to see what was corrupted be cleansed and restored. While those of us with deep wounds and scars from our lives (some of which are the result of our own follies and blunders, and some of which are the results of the wickedness and selfishness and blunders of others) may desire to be made whole and restored again to innocence, or to be loved and respected as we are and to feel as if we really are beautiful despite our flaws and struggles, we are torn asunder in the tug-of-war between our hopes and fears.
In life, there are only two kinds of people, those who openly admit and acknowledge their scars and their flaws and those who seek to hide them and cover them up and pretend that they do not exist. Among those who admit their flaws, some seek to find the flaws in others to remove any sort of credibility that anyone would have to speak against the moral blindness among us, and some would recognize their flaws and struggles so that they might be gracious and merciful and understanding to other strugglers. For either we struggle to hide our sins and appear righteous in our own eyes and the eyes of others, even if we know we cannot fool God, either we struggle to overcome our weaknesses and faults, or we wallow in our sins. Which way we choose among those three is up to us, but recognizing an option between hypocrisy and wallowing like a sow in the mud is what allows us to remain both honest and to develop virtue, even scarred and flawed as we all are.