A compelling editorial by Michael Gerson of The Washington Post, using the recent Mark Souder scandal as a jumping off point for a sympathetic look at the human condition and our need for mercy (ht JS).
The failure of human beings to meet their own ideals does not disprove or discredit those ideals. The fact that some are cowards does not make courage a myth. The fact that some are faithless does not make fidelity a joke. All moral standards create the possibility of hypocrisy. But I would rather live among those who recognize standards and fail to meet them than among those who mock all standards as lies. In the end, hypocrisy is preferable to decadence.
What we really need is to combine high moral standards with humility. When “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was first published, the poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote to a friend: “You are certainly wrong about Hyde being overdrawn; my Hyde is worse.” In every life — apart from saints and psychopaths — there is a chasm between our intentions and our conduct. All human journeys are part pilgrimage, part farce. Whenever we mock moral shoddiness, laziness and frailty, we mock into a mirror.
This recognition should lead toward the most underrated of the moral virtues: mercy. Yes, people are baser than their highest ideals. They are also nobler than their worst moments. This does not make the distinction between base and noble impossible. But it makes a little grace appropriate.