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Social media bullies who are blind to own faults

The more frequent and vituperative the tweets, the greater the scoundrel

The ancient Greek storyteller Aesop said that every man carries two wallets - one in front and one behind.

Both are full of faults.

The one in front is full of his neighbour's faults while the one behind is full of his own.

This is a vivid illustration of a truth that every observant and reflective person sooner or later discovers for himself - that men are blind to their own faults, but never lose sight of their neighbour's.

Jesus made the same point even more forcibly and memorably when he said: "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?"


ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

Most of us are blind when it comes to our own shortcomings but we overestimate our own strengths and abilities.

Studies have shown that we tend to view ourselves - in comparison to others - as more intelligent, more competent, more popular and more honest than we really are.

Psychologists label this phenomenon "illusory superiority".

DISEASES OF THE SOUL

Returning to the matter of our weaknesses and failings, it is often our most egregious faults that we find most difficult to see.

The first-century Roman philosopher Seneca, in one of his Moral Letters To Lucilius, remarked on the fact that we are apt to forget or ignore bodily ailments until they get really serious.

He said: "A slight ague deceives us, but when it has increased and a genuine fever has begun to burn, it forces even a hardy man, who can endure much suffering, to admit that he is ill."

But, he continued, when it comes to moral ailments to "diseases of the soul", the opposite holds true. "The worse one is, the less one perceives it."

This, perhaps, explains the fact that those who are quick to castigate and abuse other people on social media are frequently the very people who display the least character and integrity in their own lives.

As a rule, the more frequent and vituperative the tweets, the greater the scoundrel.

SELF-CRITICISM

Although it is generally true that people are slow to notice and even slower to confess their faults, it is not usually the case.

Some people are acutely sensitive to their own failings. In fact, some people routinely torment themselves with self- criticism and self-recriminations.

"I messed up again."

"I'm useless."

"I never get it right."

"I hate myself."

To such people, I can offer some gentle advice.

Firstly, remember that when you have succeeded in recognising a fault in yourself, you have taken the first vital step towards dealing with it.

As Seneca said: "A person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right.

"You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform."

And secondly, do not be so hard on yourself. Do as the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus recommended and always apply self-scrutiny with kindness.

Accept that it is no easy thing to change the habits and attitudes of a lifetime.

Try to make small changes and enjoy the gradual process of reshaping your life.

Shinran, a 13th-century Japanese Buddhist monk, put it aptly: "He who has recognised himself as a bad person will be saved."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'Social media bullies who are blind to own faults'. Print Edition | Subscribe