Why two similar wrongdoings may be entirely different

Suppose someone we trust as a good person does something wrong, say become severely abusive or even physically aggressive. Suppose further that their wrongdoing reminds us of a violent person from our past — a person who claimed to have reformed, but hadn’t. Given the scary similarity between the two actions, we may viscerally equate the two people. And in such equalization, we may feel scripturally justified; after all, anger is one of the gates to hell, along with lust and greed (Bhagavad-gita 16.21).

However, it may not be fair to equate two people based on one wrongdoing. Why not? Because the two actions may represent two entirely different things: relapse into innate vice or lapse from innate virtue. Let’s better understand the difference. 

Relapse into innate vice: This happens when they end a short-lived sober period and return to a deep-rooted, long-lasting vice. Sometimes, when the consequences seem to become unavoidable or unbearable, they may make a show of overcoming the vice, just to dodge or decrease the consequences. However, they may have no real intent to give up that vice. Or they may feel no need to give it up. Or they may even believe that they no longer have the ability to give it up.  

Lapse from innate virtue: This happens when they circumstantially succumb to a provocation and act completely out of character. They immediately and sincerely regret what they have done. And based on our past experience with them and that of others’ experience with them, we learn that they have never acted that way before. 

Rather than equating the two actions instantly, we can look at others’ overall behavior across time before arriving at a judgment. 

One-sentence summary: 

Before judging wrongdoers, consider whether that wrongdoing is a relapse into innate vice or a lapse from innate virtue. 

Think it over:

  • How might wrongdoing be a relapse into innate vice?
  • How might wrongdoing be a lapse from innate virtue?
  • Have you judged someone’s wrongdoing instantly? How can you use Gita wisdom to re-examine your judgment?

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16.21: There are three gates leading to this hell – lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.

 

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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