“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? – Matthew 7:3
Fiorello LaGuardia, the colorful Depression era mayor of New York City, once walked into a night court in one of the city’s poorest wards, dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. A tattered old woman was brought before him charged with stealing a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. After hearing the evidence from both sides, LaGuardia upheld the law by punishing the old woman with a ten-dollar fine or ten days in jail. But even as he was pronouncing the sentence he reached into his own pocket and produced a ten-dollar bill, exclaiming these words to all present in the courtroom: “Here is the ten-dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
Now, being the good citizen that I am, I have always dutifully shown up in court whenever I’ve receive a jury summons. And there’s one thing that is always predictable. At some point during the voir dire process the attorneys, as well as the judge, will instruct the jury panel on the importance of weighing all the evidence before passing judgment.
Every time I hear that little admonition I am forced to take pause. While I’m great at passing judgment on others, something I do frequently, I’m not quite so adept at weighing the evidence. And there’s good reason for that; for digging deeper into the evidence against someone else has this strange effect of revealing my own guilt.
Mayor LaGuardia must surely have had the same experience in that night court back in January of 1935. The evidence clearly revealed the woman’s guilt as undeniable. Yet, in digging deeper, neither was the Mayor able to deny his own, and why he assessed the biggest fine against himself. After all, he was the mayor of a town where a person had to steal bread so that her grandchildren could eat, which must have caused him to ask himself, “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?”