I think that it's rather common for people to take comfort in not being the only backslider: the person who tries to be good, but too often relapses into questionable behavior. Speaking for myself, I know all too well my tendency to fall short of some of my aspirations in life. I screw up and then feel regret for doing so, and vow to do better next time. And maybe I'll do better for a while, but soon I will backslide again. My conscience stabs me and I feel a pang of guilt, as I face my lapses.
I'm not referring here to major faults or sins—just those modest shortcomings in one's behavior that sometimes seem to persist, despite one's best intentions.
When we encounter another person who shares similar shortcomings, we are often likely to take some comfort in discovering that we're not alone. There's an old saying that speaks to this issue: “Misery likes company.” I think misery is too strong a word for what I'm addressing here. It's more a case of a gnawing conscience.
Can finding a fellow recidivist and then feeling a little better about it be considered to be a selfish reaction? It can be, if I use the occasion primarily to relieve my guilt and even to rationalize my shortcomings. It might seem selfish to think, “Well, he screwed up too, but seems to be a decent guy, so maybe I don't need to be concerned about my frailties.” Or to think, “We understand each other, so we'll forgive each other for backsliding.” It can be a case of one sinner absolving another.
But I think there can also be a beneficial side to discovering you're not alone at backsliding—as it can foster a feeling of compassion for your fellow sinner. And what's more, that feeling of compassion can then also be extended to encompass oneself. Furthermore, it can engender acceptance of the other's (as well as on'es own) minor faults, rather than condemnation.
Acceptance can open the way for us to change for the better. And again, that act of acceptance and change for the better can extend to oneself. When I discover frailties in another person, it can be very helpful to be able to say to her, “I understand; I've been there too. I understand your struggles and failures. Maybe we can together support each other to change for the better.”
There is a tendency—particularly in American culture—to focus on our individuality and sometimes to feel disconnected from others and thus to become lonely. We Americans prize individualism. What's more, we often possess a prudish response toward those who don't behave according to strict standards. This behavior can drive people apart and cause them to become quite judgmental. This just adds to one's feeling of being alone and isolated.
In contrast, when we admit our faults and feel a connection to others who exhibit those same faults, we can open ourselves to the reality that we're all linked together; we all share a common bond; we're all in the same boat. Yes, we are all sinners to some extent, but we can encourage each other to behave better.