Some years back I heard the expression- I am not defined by my past. Most of us probably would argue with that idea. In many ways we seem to have been molded by our past life experiences, the circumstances in which we were raised, the education we received, the jobs we worked.
However, I suspect the one who used this expression meant he was not defined by past behavior, especially the mistakes. Now there's a novel concept. In judging others we definitely use their past behaviors as the basis for labeling and defining them. In fact, in almost every election cycle we witness some candidate dragging up something an opponent said or did years ago as a way to prove who they really are today. I suspect most of us prefer not to be forever defined by mistakes in the past.
So if we believe that we are not the same person today as in the past or even that we are the same person day to day, depending on mood swings or emotional pressures, how can we properly assess others based on their past behaviors? Does our observation need to be recent to be valid? How recent is recent? Does the behavior need to be often repeated? What is the proper judgment if the pattern of behavior is wildly inconsistent, laudable one time and lamentable the next? Which behavior is defining, the most common, the worst, the best?
There are no easy concrete answers to these questions. When we attempt to define a person as worthy or unworthy based on their behaviors, we should recognize some basic problems in that analysis. Hearsay, limited knowledge, or personal biases taint all such judgments. Judging others is a tricky business. If we admit that we don't relish being known for our worst words and actions, maybe we should extend a little latitude to others when they appear to mess up.