People who live in glass houses


People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. I remember this old adage from my childhood; an admonition to people who are prone to criticizing others to be wary that they’re not guilty of that which they criticize.

As a diplomat who served my country for three decades, often in places where the political and social systems were less than welcoming, I always kept it in mind during my dealings with the host country government officials and citizens.

If your aim is to influence someone, an individual or a government, it helps if you’re not a poster child for the very thing you criticize. As a leader, for example, criticizing your subordinates for arriving to work late lacks credibility and authority if you’re the type of boss who rolls in half an hour late most days.

When I was preparing to go to Cambodia as the U.S. ambassador in 2002, for example, that country was preparing for it’s first election that was not being run by the UN and there were people in Washington who, when I met with them, were insistent that I put pressure on the government when I arrived to make sure they ran an error-free election.

Keep in mind that this was the time when we were just getting past the ‘hanging chad’ debacle in our own presidential election that had to be finally decided by the courts. When I pointed out to people that we needed to be circumspect in our admonitions and prudent in our expectations, given that a country like ours, with over two hundred years of experience with elections could still have trouble running an election without problems. Expecting a country to do it error-free the first time out of the gate seemed a bit much.

The reaction to my call for caution was less a bit chilly to say the least, leading me to the belief that people who live in glass houses don’t necessarily have a clear view of things.

I wish I could say that things have changed and that people are now older and wiser about such things, but looking at it from the outside, I see the same inability to see the danger of holding others to standards that you do not hold yourself to. People in positions of power—far too many of them—are still just as tone-deaf as I remember.

Politicians around the world continue to want to support only the rules that advantage them and question those same rules when things don’t go their way. Nowadays, politicians of all stripes in many countries, refuse to accept the results of elections they lose despite tons of evidence supporting that loss. If a law, regulation, or court decision doesn’t go their way, they question it—again and again. They cry and moan when they’re criticized, while criticizing others in the same breath.

In some ways it reminds me of a time, in the early 1960s, when I coached a little league baseball team. As the newest and most junior coach in the conference, I was given a team of misfits, all the kids that the more experienced coaches had rejected.

There were two kids on the team who had potential, but you can’t build a winning team with just two players, so I decided to just focus on teaching them the basics and letting them enjoy the game. The parents of one of the two almost capable players, though, had other ideas. They wanted me to feature their son, even if it meant mistreating the other players.

When I pointed out to them that one of the goals of little league was building character and what they wanted me to do ran counter to that, the father told me that he didn’t care, he just wanted his son to be noticed by one of the other coaches who would then ask for his transfer.

Now, I was just a small-town boy from a one-horse East Texas town, lacking this man’s age and experience, but I’d always been taught to play by the rules. I diplomatically and gently told the father that I couldn’t do what he asked and when he pushed back I went to the league chairman and asked that he be banned from the playing field. It didn’t go over too well with the father, but my team had a good time (we never won a game, but we never quit). A few of them even developed a bit more skill at the game.

The morale of this is, if you live in a glass house, you shouldn’t throw stones, and if you insist on throwing stones, you should seriously consider relocating. – NWI