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Of Planks and Specks

[This is an adapted portion of a short book I'm writing on the matter of toxic leadership]

If you are a person of faith, then you’ve heard the famous parable of the plank and the speck. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (New International Version). Or, to paraphrase, “Be careful accusing folks of transgressions you, too, are guilty of committing.”

How so very true this admonition is! As depraved, self-righteous human beings, we too often fall prey to censoriousness. We like to lob accusatory salvos at others in their times of despair and waywardness; yet, in our own moments of weakness, we clamor for grace and mercy. It is certainly much easier to judge others than it is ourselves, in most cases. And, so, we point our fingers with boney resolve, whilst forgetting the self-condemnation we so richly deserve.

Have you ever heard a politician lobby for moral uprightness in his colleagues, only to find out later that he has committed moral or ethical breaches himself? We’ve all been in the presence of a teacher or parent who says (either through word or action) something like, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Or what about the pastor, business leader, or supervisor who seems to think the rules don’t apply to her. When we encounter any of these people, we are quick to use a label that has become a veritable staple in American culture--a “go-to” word that is at once appropriate while at the same time a bit trite, over-used, and unfair. And that word is hypocrite.

But who reading this book has never been a hypocrite? I can recall on more than one occasion chastising my two youngest children for spending excessive time watching Netflix or YouTube, while simultaneously having a computer sitting on my lap, earbuds in my ears, guessed it...YouTube! Looking back, I’m sure my children clearly recognized the hypocrisy! As did my oldest son, no doubt, the many times I corrected him for being unkind to one of his brothers or sisters, all the while speaking in an angry tone, laying waste to his id and ego, and demonstrating very little grace. Sensitivity to kindness was the furthest thing from my mind in each of these instances, even though my rebukes were centered on that very topic! Could I have been any more hypocritical? I doubt it.

Yet we’ve all been there. We’ve all played the part of the hypocrite. We’ve all pointed out the tiniest dust particle in the eye of another, all while suffering a medical emergency from the 10-inch splinter in our own eye. We’ve all pointed our fingers at others forgetting that three fingers are pointing back at ourselves each time. This is a common human oversight, but one we must recognize if we are to appreciate fully the matter of toxic leadership.

You see we are all born with the potential for toxicity. Not one person reading this article is immune from the temptation to be mean, spiteful, arrogant, selfish, irresponsible, aloof, or disrespectful. From the moment we exit our mother’s womb to the day we close our eyes for the last time, we muddle our way through a miry labyrinth of caustics that leach into our skin, enter the wounds that cover our body, and waft through cavities of our nostrils, constantly seeking to poison us. Our obvious goal, then, is to protect ourselves from these terrible pathogens. We want to avoid being overcome by them so we can live lives of purity, uprightness, and moral-ethical strength.

But how do we do this? Sure, everything noted in this article sounds logical, commonsensical, and true. The orthodoxy is sound, but what about the orthopraxy? Is there a right way to live so as to avoid or overcome the effects of toxic leadership? I believe there is, but it's not easy. What is more, it requires a healthy dose of something of which most of us don't have enough, namely, humility. If we are to suppress arrogance, self-centeredness, and judgmentalism in our lives, then we must first see ourselves as God sees us: sinners in need of a Savior.

How do you see yourself? Are you fully aware of your plank, or are you looking past your plank to judge others' specks? Remember, you'll never be the parent, employer, leader, friend, etc. you are called by God to be until you purge yourself of the toxins that are poisoning your insides...until you shed pride and put on humility.

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