Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

A Catholic friend, who knows I marble some of Charlotte Mason’s philosophies into my homeschooling curriculum and home atmosphere, recently asked me my thoughts on Charlotte Mason as a “Catholic Impossibility” after she came across a negative post on a discussion board about the dangers of using CM. (For the record: This friend was not being combative at all as she also uses Charlotte Mason in her own homeschooling way of life.)

My initial response to her was to defend the ideals of Charlotte Mason, but our email correspondence prompted me to focus on the bigger picture, especially since in the past several months I’ve seen numerous online discussions about how “un-Catholic” everything from women wearing pants is to allowing your children to play with Waldorf dolls.

In the BI (“before Internet”) days, people who wished to be faithful had a scaled down toolbox at their disposal. They might have a spiritual director. A spouse. Their parish priest. A few trusted friends. Church-approved books. The Catechism. The Bible. Quiet prayer. Their own will and conscience.

Enter the Internet.

Sometimes this vast information highway takes me to destinations I wish I’d never known about – places where fear-mongering supersedes building a culture of love, places where people protest absolutely everything often with comments laced in vitriol. It’s a place where people have no filter. Stones are cast freely, and people are left wounded. A vortex where we waste so much time quibbling over things that are not going to change the world, edify, protect the sanctity of life, or do anything really worthwhile at all.

Holier-than-thous turn their nose up at anyone who does things differently than they do. People take the liberty to call themselves “Anonymous” while hurling hate toward someone else (none of us is anonymous to God). It’s a place where we easily become lawyers and judges when we’re called to be witnesses to Christ’s love. It’s a place that makes us feel better and gives us a false sense of humility because we can always find something wrong with someone else.

I may be a sinner, but that guy over there is far worse.

She may be holy because of this, but my goodness, she wears pants and owns a prenatal yoga DVD [never mind that contains absolutely no Eastern spirituality underpinnings and focuses solely on physical fitness]. Oh, and she let her 13-year-old read Harry Potter. [Insert dramatic shudder here.]

Thank you, God, for allowing me to see the light.

Why is it that we think our light will beam a whole lot brighter if we snuff out others’?

I’ve written about this before, but so many heated debates seem to hinge on semantics. Maybe if I said I start my morning with stretching instead of using a DVD that just happened to slap on the label yoga because that’s the cool thing to do (just like reading and/or seeing and talking about Eat Pray Love is), no one would question my sincerity of faith. Maybe I should call that flat piece of foam referred to as a “yoga mat” by the fitness store I purchased it at an exercise mat just to be safe. Maybe if we called the Charlotte Mason method “nature and literature study,” no one would label it as a “Catholic impossibility.” Maybe if we were very, very clear that we only relied on fairies to engage our children’s imaginations and bought beeswax crayons because they are quality art supplies rather than showing any loyalty to the Waldorf principles, we would not be judged.

Our fallen human nature means we can botch up or contaminate anything: sex, food, clothing choices. Anything’s game. But I also believe we can baptize certain practices from the secular world and other cultures and shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss anything that isn’t blatantly Christian/Catholic. Christ and his redeeming cross means we can find goodness in a lot of more secular things. I have no desire to live in a Catholic bubble. I pray I can find the Truth (or defend it, if and when necessary) at whatever intellectual or physical destination I find myself.

My ability to recognize the Truth, in fact, has not come just from reading the Bible or praying the Rosary. There have been many secular sources that have helped shape me into a better thinker, person, and Christian. For example, I took a philosophy course in college. I read great works by philosophers who were Christian as well as some who were atheists. The content was not as important as how the argument was formulated. That class didn’t teach me what to think; it helped teach me how to think.

Furthermore, the intention behind our actions and decisions is very important, and the Internet is lousy at revealing intention, so we should be careful to judge too harshly (or at all). It’s hard to discern intention in real life, too. But – get ready for a big cliche – God knows our hearts, and that’s what we have to focus on instead of searching for an official Church-ruling on every single decision we have to make in daily life.

It might be easier if we could ditch our own personal moral compass and just rely on someone who could just tell us what’s right, but let’s remember Christ spoke in parables. His didactics were not always straightforward. He was very clear on some things, but we’re left to muddle through the rest and muddle we do.

The fact of the matter is the Church is not perfectly clear on many of these controversial topics either. I’m not sure some of these topics are even controversial (although there is a Vatican document warning against New Age practices). In Her Wisdom, the Church gives us guidelines and then releases us to rely on our own sensibilities to judge whether a certain action is in line with Church teaching.

I’m not going to live in a sheltered world and be afraid that the Internet Inquisition is going to condemn me for mentioning I wear skirts and pants, endorse Charlotte Mason, hold a plank in hopes that I’ll firm up my core, or play fairies with my girls. (Besides, if you search the Internet long enough, you’ll find some Christian somewhere who thinks virtually everything is culpable.) I stumble and lack virtue all of the time, but it’s not because I read “living books” to my children and ask them to narrate the stories back to me. It’s not because we take to the outdoors for an afternoon of nature study and bask in God’s miraculous creation. It’s not because I don’t don a skirt every day.

However, if anyone personally finds that stretching her limbs while taking deep breaths starts to make her want to chant and rely on good karma to get her through the day instead of turning to Christ, or if someone starts to believe fairies are real spirits to pay homage to after building a fairy hut in her backyard with her children, then, by all means, she should stop what she’s doing, put on a skirt, and go read Summa Theologica.


I’m sorry to be so snarky. I know the devil is sneaky. However, most devout, practicing Christians are well-equipped to discern what lifestyle choices are a good fit for their family and will not threaten to come between them and their faith. We have to trust the discernment process and our decisions, keep praying, and then tune out the naysayers, if necessary. We do not have to defend all or any of our decisions. We do not have to answer to anyone but God.

When I’m faced with discerning something, I try to make a prudential decision by taking my concerns to God, a trusted spiritual director, mom mentors I respect and admire (especially my own mom or my 89-year-old, wise Nana), and my spouse. There are certain moral absolutes, but there’s a lot of gray area, too. When I’m stuck in a gray area, I’ve learned to remember the advice of my grade school teachers and to “keep my eyes on my own work.” I try to tune out all the opinions and condemnations of others so all the noise isn’t drowning out the one voice that really matters. I pray and focus on my personal conscience and following the most important law of all – the law of love. While I’m not suggesting we should never correct our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can easily find ourselves becoming too much like the Pharisees if we’re overly concerned with rules and regulations and what everyone else is doing instead of looking inward at our own lives.

I usually know when I’ve made a good decision. When my life is aligned with God’s will for me – even when things get tough – I feel an overwhelming sense of peace. And that peace outweighs all the doubts that might trickle into my heart lest I start spending too much time online reading the Gospel of Anonymous.
*As always, I welcome charitable discourse, but please don’t expect me to defend my beliefs. I have a family to nurture and a soul that needs quiet prayer time more than debate.
katesig Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work
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34 Responses to “Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work”
  1. Annie says:

    Very well said, Kate. Very. Thank you.

  2. the momma says:

    preach it, Sister :-)

  3. Maman A Droit says:

    My brother, not Catholic but Christian, I think tends toward what you are opposing here-he will only listen to Christian music and thinks yoga is sinful and won't vote for a candidate without a perfect pro-life record, even if that means he votes for no one or a non-viable candidate.

    I guess I think of most things as tools. Some stuff really is bad and honestly can't help you fulfill your vocation. But most things are inherently morally neutral, and it's how you use them that determines how good or bad they are!

  4. ViolinMama says:

    AMEN!

  5. Jenny says:

    My spiritual director always reminds me, whent he Israelities fled Egypt, they took all the gold with them.

    Translation…when we find the good, be it in a benign yoga video, or beautifuuly handcrafted items on a Waldorf site, we take them and make them our own, in our own devoutly Catholic life.

  6. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I woke up this morning pondering similar thoughts. Precisely, I was asking myself "where are all the Catholics"- and I mean "where are all the Catholics in the secular world?" Lately I have come across so many well meaning Catholics who pride themselves on living in that Catholic bubble you referred to- who won't even explore anything that is not stamped "CATHOLIC" on it. Then I come to the computer and Elizabeth Foss linked to your blog today. Thank you so much!

  7. sksherwin says:

    "Keep our eyes on our own work" — perfect! Thanks Kate!

  8. kathleen says:

    really liked this post. Thank you.

  9. The Little House That Grew says:

    Being a Catholic homeschooler I have felt this same thing in many ways…Sometimes in our Catholic circles we have to "out catholic"each other…
    I notice it mostly when we are in a group of Catholics, people will introduce me as "This is Lisa, she home schools her 5 kids." Like somehow that makes me MORE of a Catholic…it just makes me this Catholic.
    Great post.

  10. Lynn says:

    Thanks for this post… I am usually worried I am not Catholic enough when out on the Catholic-blogs. I know that this is not true – I am just a Catholic! There is no scale out there for us to judge one another. Anyhow, aren't we not supposed to be the judges – God is at the end of the day.

  11. Mary Poppins NOT says:

    It is my opinion that Catholics should never be afraid to appreciate, use and absorb the good, the true, and the beautiful where they find it. Catholic history teaches us that is exactly what was done by the early church, in order to change the culture.

    My favorite line regarding commenting on other parents' choices is "keep your paddle in your own canoe." You can't steer someone else's canoe with your paddle without being unable to steer your own.

    Blessings, and keep up the good work. ~ Renee

  12. Colleen Duggan | Writer says:

    I fear this is one of the problems with the blogging world–it makes it tough to 'keep your eyes on your own work'. It opens us up to questions, critiques, and commentary.

    I too have felt judged by various Catholic women–for not homeschooling, for getting an epidural on my fifth go round, for not breastfeeding. If those are the criteria I must fulfill to be a good mom, well, then I've already failed.

    And I know I haven't–not totally, anyway. :) But it's taken me five kids and seven years of parenting to realize this.

    Elizabeth Foss wrote a post years ago about Sarah Palin when she was running for office. The title of it was 'We Eat Our Own"-it echos what you speak of here. How as Catholic women we condemn each other instead of being a support. I loved her thoughts on the matter. I don't want to be a Pharisee–I want to be loving. I hope the Lord gives me the grace.

    God bless you in your journey.

    PS–my vanity prohibits me from simply posting this! Please excuse errors and typos! I have a crying baby in the background and I need to go! Have a great day!

  13. Sarah says:

    Kate,

    This is brilliant- a desperately needed message in today's online Catholic community. Thank you for writing it!

  14. Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) says:

    Thank you for this. You're exactly right, and I love the reminder to "keep your eyes on your own work." Easy to remember! (although often hard to do) ;)

  15. Marie says:

    Wonderful post – thank you!

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Kate–
    This is so very timely for me as I find that I not only read things like this online but also hear it in our Catholic homeschooling community. Thank you so much for writing this!!!

  17. MicheleQ says:

    Hi Kate,

    For the most part I agree with what you are saying. In other words, as a panting wearing, CM promoting mama, I get it. ;-)

    Our current culture is steeped in new age secularism and it's getting harder and harder to keep things separate. As a woman with both grown children and young children still at home I find that quite a challenge. Discernment IS important and we can't let the opinions of others keep us in a constant state of change and reevaluation (I've seen it happen)!

    But discernment can be harder for some than it is for others. Sometimes it's just more difficult at certain times of our lives (how many times have I looked back and thought "what was I thinking?"). What's clear to one isn't always so clear to another and I think as women we naturally look for guidance from other women.

    The trouble is, the internet is a public place and while it's true that we are answerable only to God for our actions, it's also true that we will be judged in whom we may have led astray.

    My point is that the example we set is very important. Please, please don't downplay that. When you are in your home and something is private it's one thing but as soon as you discuss it online it becomes a public witness. I know a lot of people don't like that but I just don't see how we can have it both ways. How can we write publicly, (blog, forum, whatever) and then cry foul when someone questions us?

    Truthfully I have rarely seen outright meanness in judgment (though I have seen it) but I have quite a bit of jumping to conclusions by those who felt they were being "attacked". It's as if we cannot disagree charitably at all anymore because to disagree at all IS considered uncharitable. Whatever happened to iron sharpening iron? I do realize that some of this comes down to personality and I certainly think we need to account for the feelings and sensitivities of others but must we always tread lightly for fear of offense? That sort of things smacks very much of the way our culture lives ( i.e., I'm OK, you're OK) but is not how we should be living as Christians.

    I'm not saying we should blast one another –certainly there's enough of that from the outside world but can we not challenge one another to live holier lives?

  18. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly says:

    Thank you to everyone for their support. I had partially written this post, but it took a lot of discernment for me to decide to put it out there in the public forum. :-)

    And, Michelle, thank you for your thoughtful and charitable comment.

    Yes, we should most definitely challenge one another to live holier lives. However, in my experience I've found the best way to do this is by being a witness more than a judge and to lead a life of virtue. I've always loved Madeleine L'Engle's words on bringing others to Christ: "We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it."

    While I have seen charitable discussions on certain topics, the ping-ponging of ideas and arguments never really seems to get anyone anywhere. You and I love CM and see it as a beautiful way to complement our Catholic homeschool curriculum; others are vehemently opposed to it. We have no black and white guidance, so really what good does it do to argue back and forth? It comes down to personal discernment, and it just feels like such a waste of time to argue about lifestyle choices that cannot be easily proven to be morally reprehensible or not.

    Unfortunately, I have seen some pretty hateful things said among Catholics and/or Christians. I received an email calling me a dog who needed to be sent to obedience school. I'd call that a remark laced with vitriol. I also had an anonymous comment refer to me as a "simpleton breeder." Not nice at all.

    Perhaps when we do honestly feel we have a God-given responsibility to gently correct someone, we should contact them in a private manner and not turn it into a public, stone-throwing spectacle. When I wrote an article on why I nurse at Mass, a whole slew of comments were generated – some were quite nasty. One woman, however, left no comment but instead sent me a personal email explaining with charity why she did not agree with me. I had a lot of respect for her.

    We also have to consider that we're not just witnessing to our fellow Christians, but to those who might not believe in God. They'll know we are Christians by our love – or by our judgmental attitudes and/or hate. After that same nursing article, the saddest comment of all was someone saying this is why I'm an atheist.

    I do admit that my own vanity and desire to be please others and to be loved does sometimes make it more difficult for me to call others out when I truly do feel they might be straying from the Church. I pray the Holy Spirit can help give me the courage and wisdom to defend the faith.

    Finally, I once did have an anon comment that really did help me to see I hadn't been a very good Christian witness by poking fun at myself and using a degrading word that might offend others. It wasn't easy to see the truth right in front of me, but I accepted it and retracted and posted an apology. I hope I can always be humble enough to do that.

    Forgive my disorganized thoughts. I actually lost the first comment I tried to post, and my little ones need me now!

    God bless.

  19. Roger, Michelle, Jena and Lily says:

    Great article! My husband's great-uncle passed away last spring. At his funeral the minister said that Uncle Julian subscribed to a "lead by example" philosophy of life. He tried to be the best person and example he could be and left it at that. I can say that he was a wonderful person and one of the kindest men I have ever know. The kind of person I felt better for having known. Keep up the good work, Kate.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to say re: yoga – the eastern spirituality overlays the morally neutral physical actions, so you can definitely "do yoga" without entering into some sort of eastern religion state of consciousness or be participating in some sort of act of religious worship. I think that people are trying to be faithful, yet haven't been either well catechized or had the benefit of classes in logic. So many people are trying to recover a culture that was essentially lost over the last decades, without the education that used to be an underpinning to that culture, or a deeper understanding of the philosophy necessary to comprehend the difference between cultural norms and objectively good and evil acts, or morally neutral acts. Anyway, I think that is why people are confused on the whole attachment of moral good or bad to morally neutral situations/actions such as choosing pants, doing yoga, etc., when they are trying to act faithfully and piously. Prayers for a return en masse to prudence, logic, and common sense!
    Lisa

  21. MicheleQ says:

    Kate,

    I don't doubt that you have received unkind comments –I've had my share as well. I figure it's par for the course when there's such a wide audience here online.

    I wholeheartedly agree that being a witness is the best way but that goes back to what I was saying before –is our witness a good one? We're in public here and like it or not we have to be careful that we don't scandalize by what we say or do or suggest or recommend (I am speaking in general here not at all referring to you or anything you've written). Of course we can't be all things to all people and some will be scandalized no matter what we say or do but in general we have to try our best. To whom much is given much is expected. Not everyone has the same level of understanding and those who "lead" in the online world carry a big responsibility.

    I DO think there's value in "arguing" a point. I know that personally my mind has been changed by such discussions and I have seen others changed as well. But again I do think some of that comes back to personality and needing to have a thicker skin perhaps. I am not at all talking about character attacks or blasting someone –those things are never acceptable– but a true heartfelt discussion on why one might disagree with another's point of view. I have seen beautiful witnesses of charity and acceptance be an end result when the middle of a discussion looked pretty hairy. I'd say calling someone a dog is certainly a character attack but questioning someone's idea isn't. Judgmental attitudes and/or hate certainly have no place among us. I absolutely think that private contact should always be attempted and that a public, stone-throwing spectacle is never appropriate. But then that can so often come down to interpretation. I can say with all honesty that I have never intended to publicly throw stones but you can sure bet I have been accused of it. :-)

    Thanks for allowing this discussion Kate.

    God bless!

  22. ViolinMama says:

    James 1:19b-20, 26
    Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for a man’s anger does not fulfill God’s justice. If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless.

  23. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this moving article. I just wanted to chime in and ask for you to pray for many of us that seem overly critical in areas that really don't have moral absolutes. I am one of them, but I realize that I struggle with it. I know for myself that much of it has it's roots in my past failures and sins when I was not walking with Christ. The urge to continue to "make-up" for everything wrong I have done is very strong for me. That somehow if I live up to this impossible ideal I will prove to God that I am worthy. I know in reality that this is not how God works. I've been to confession for them all, but it's hard to let go of this type of thinking and let God's grace heal me. It's a day by day struggle, but everyone has their vices.

    If there are others that struggle with this, the best advice I have is to limit your time reading about other peoples lives on the internet and focus on your relationship with God and your family. The urge is so strong for me to find fault with others in order to build myself up that I have had to start purposefully finding good in everything I read.

  24. Michelle says:

    I forgot to add that one of the best books to read if you struggle in this area is "Interior Freedom" by Jacques Phillippe…Awesome

  25. Kate Wicker @ Momopoly says:

    Michelle, I can't thank you enough for your heartfelt comment. I hadn't really thought much about the why behind some people's judgments (shame on me for not looking at things through the lens of Christ).

    We're all broken; it's just we handle our brokenness in different ways. I tend to want to please others so much and to be such an affirmation junkie that I tend to not keep God's will for me at the forefront. Likewise, I have a bad habit of deciding the best way to become a better Catholic is to be more like So-and-So when, in fact, the best way is to simply become the best version of myself and to use what God has given ME to give Him glory. This has been a constant struggle for me. I'm always trying to fix myself, so maybe I am a little sensitive to some of the discourse in cyberspace.

    And I so agree with you that whether you're struggling to find virtue in others or comparing yourself too much to others so that you end up feeling unworthy (something I'm guilty of), you'd benefit from focusing on God and stepping away from the Internet.

    Thank you for the book recommendation and for the comment.

    You're in my prayers. Please allow me to be in yours, too.

  26. Christa says:

    Thank you! I very much appreciate your thought that allowing others to view our lives in blogs opens us up to more scrutiny than is really necessary or healthy. We all much choose our words carefully. I love the quote from St. Augustine:

    "In the essentials, Unity.
    In the non-essentials, Liberty.
    In all things, Charity."

    Praise God for His grace. May we all learn to share it liberally.

  27. Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks says:

    I followed the link here from In the Heart of My Home, a favorite blog even though I am not Catholic.

    I become so sad from the other "side", as I have heard people at my church say Catholics are not "saved" because they worship Mary.

    I think of my sweet Catholic friends who have a deep and abiding love for Christ and wonder if any of these people know real life Catholic Christians.

    If true Christians… Protestant and Catholic… would unite instead of not trusting each other… the world would be changed.

  28. Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac says:

    Beautifully written Kate! I appreciate the discussion in the combox as well.

    'Iron sharpens iron' type discussions are all well in good, but sometimes, people become unwitting participants in these disagreements and feel like they've been jumped by the holier than thou police! (present discussion excluded ;))

    It can be hard to tell when someone is ready to be challenged. I don't think that simply because someone writes on the internet, she is inviting correction and judgement, publicly in a combox or even in an email.

    There is a temptation on the casual internet that doesn't exist in face to face relationships to seperate what is written from the individual behind the words.

    When I am face to face with a Mom who is handing out advice on curriculum/childrearing/pregnancy etc…solicited or unsolicited ;) I may know that she just lost a child to m/c, or that her husband travels, or that she just recently became Catholic, or any number of things that help me discern whether this unique individual is really looking for deeper discussion or disagreement about an issue or maybe is simply just sharing where she is at that time of her life, her journey.

    It is my responsibility to discern info, distill advice and filter suggestions down to applying God's will in my life. I have come to the conclusion that very, very rarely is it my responsibility to rebuke another, in real life or in cyberspace-plank in eye and all that. And then, said rebukes/advice/suggestions should only be made in the absolute most loving way I can muster and as rule, privately.

    However, sometimes, even when our disagreements are presented in the most charitable, logical way possible, in a forum or context where we have discerned these discussions would be welcomed and appropriate, our intentions can be taken personally. It makes me want to throw up my hands in exasperation sometimes.

    It hurts on the other side to be accused of attacking someone when you thought 'Hey we're having a friendly discussion of ideas here!'

    The place to go after that is prayer. Only God can truly provide the affirmation and acceptance we all crave. He alone has enough Grace to see us through when we are being overly sensitive and/or pridefully judgemental.

    I know-cause yes, I have been both. Perhaps (um-probably) even at the same time!

  29. Sister Mary Martha says:

    Keep your eyes on your own work. And mind your own garden.

  30. Karen E. says:

    "There have been many secular sources that have helped shape me into a better thinker, person, and Christian."

    Yup. Me, too.

    Way back before I was a Christian, when I was struggling to understand what it could possibly mean that Jesus was both God and man, it was a secular musical that helped me. I was just beginning to get the "God part" — but human? How? What did that mean, and how did that play out? Then I watched "Jesus Christ, Superstar." It's considered quite irreverent by some, and of course it ends with the Crucifixion — no Resurrection in Andrew Lloyd Webber's version of the tale. And yet … it awakened something in me and helped me to see Christ as a man, as the man who suffered for me ….

    We're all walking very different paths on this one earth, and it's usually not helpful to try to pin our experiences on someone else. Where non-doctrinal issues are concerned, our best bet is always charity.

  31. MicheleQ says:

    Oh Karen I couldn't agree more (I sure hope it didn't sound like I was saying otherwise). Even where doctrinal issues ARE concerned we have to be charitable (which I know you know!)

    I just struggle with what exactly that means at times. I never think it's OK to attack someone but does that mean we can't disagree about something? Certainly not but then so often disagreeing becomes labeled as uncharitable. Is challenging someone always to be considered judgmental –even when it isn't meant that way?

    Needless to say I find it all rather frustrating. Kate, I do think what you wrote previously about semantics is very true and I also think it follows that we would all have a lot less stress if we just assumed the best of one another.

  32. Karen E. says:

    Hi, Michele! No, I didn't think you sounded otherwise!

    I didn't have any problem with what you said. Disagreement is a fact of life. And, I agree with you that it can be hard to pin down how we all approach that fact in practical, day-to-day terms. The internet has muddied the waters of fraternal correction. When is someone close enough to me that I might feel free to point something out? When am I close enough to someone that I'll take his or her correction in the way it's intended, rather than with offense or hurt?

    I don't think there are black and white answers to that — so I was just agreeing in general with Kate that it can be tricky. Maybe my Jesus Christ, Superstar example is an apt one: I wouldn't unequivocally endorse the play for everyone, but I do tell the story about how and why I found it meaningful at a particular time in my life.

    I'll bet we've all been on both sides of these kinds of things — too quick too judge, and struggling with being judged. Fallen nature! :)

    Great discussion! God bless!

  33. LLMom says:

    Thank you for this. It is so easy to start judging others actions and calling ourselves "holier".

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