The more I look around the world, and see the issues that exist in communication, the more I become aware that the absence of the hermeneutic of charity is one of the most essential aspects of the problems that we have so consistently with other people. To be sure, there are a lot of problems in our world that cannot be resolved by knowing what someone else is thinking. Indeed, sometimes a great deal of the peace that we have with others depends on our not knowing what they really mean or really think, and a great deal of the absence of communication that exists is for the reason of avoiding the awkwardness that comes from knowing things about others that would lead us to disrespect them. I do not talk politics, for example, around my coworkers because if they knew the extent that I was to the right of our president they would find it difficult to be polite to me and to my viewpoints. And no doubt there are people who know my own sensitivities, or at least some of them, and refrain from saying things that they know will irritate me, though not as often as one would hope.
A great deal of our problems results from the fact that instead of a hermeneutic of charity when it comes to dealing with others and what they say and do, we often adopt a hermeneutic of meanness that leads us to interpret everything they say and do in the most malicious and unfriendly way possible. Yet even if we may be aware that this is wrong, we justify it all the same. Part of the reason why we justify this is because having a hermeutic of meanness allows us to think poorly of others and to think ourselves justified for it, to the extent that not only do we interpret everything they say in the worst way possible, but when they do something that we cannot disagree with, like condemning obvious acts of brutality against others, we find the worst possible motive they could think and speak in such an obvious way so that we do not have to respect them for what would otherwise be a respectable opinion in our eyes. It should go without saying that this hermeneutic of meanness is wrong for several reasons. For one, it is unjust to others to always assume the worst meaning of what someone says or does and the worst motive even for unobjectionable things that they say and do. It is not merely unkind, but it is not giving others the credit that they deserve for being human beings of some decency. After all, if we thought of other people as being people of some decency, however much we disagreed with them or did not get along with them, we would feel obligated to treat them with some respect and kindness. All too often we are unwilling to do so, though.
This is because our pride is involved. And this is what makes the hermeneutic of meanness so dangerous. When we are unjust to others, are dimly aware that we are being unjust, but refuse to correct our injustice because it allows us to look down on other people, then we have serious problems. There are ironies about this problem. For example, one of the reason why many people fancy it acceptable to look down on those they deem as racists or sexists or some other sort of -phobe is because such people are judged to look down on other people out of prejudice, and such prejudice is so unacceptable that it allows us to look upon them as being less than human and unworthy of any sort of respect or consideration whatsoever. The issue becomes, though, that through doing so we become prejudiced ourselves, and thus not morally superior to those whom we look down on. The problem with contempt is that it removes from us the moral superiority that we use in order to justify the contempt in the first place. The very act of looking down on others makes us a hypocrite for looking down on others because they in turn look down on others, and makes it impossible for people to have good relations with each other because everyone, or at least almost everyone, is looking down on others from a point of view of undeserved pride and privilege. In judging others unworthy of being interpreted as kindly as possible and to be treated with as much respect as possible, we simultaneously judge ourselves by the same standard, without recognizing that we judge ourselves when we judge others for doing to others what we are doing to them. Hypocrisy is easy, and when hypocrisy becomes too easy, charity becomes immensely challenging, and something that people stop trying to acquire. And when that happens we are in deep trouble indeed.