Talk:people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

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It appears to me that this explanation of "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" is incorrect, or at least, ambiguous. That people shouldn't criticize a fault that they share themselves is not given in the 'story', and it suggests that the saying is instruction about hypocrisy, which is supported by the 'see also' association. However, it is my sense that this is also a commonly understood interpretation and use of the saying, leaving this entry hanging between what it means as a story, and what it means as a cliche.

"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" is not about hypocrisy but about vulnerability. There is no suggestion of 'the same kind of fault' in the verbal image we are given. To be about hypocrisy it would have to be something like "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at other people's glass houses" perhaps, or "People who live in glass houses shouldn't say it's wrong to throw stones, and then do so anyway". The pot, in this saying, doesn't call the kettle black.

There are two actual meanings that are possible. One is that you shouldn't start a fight when you are vulnerable, something like "People with glass jaws shouldn't start fights". You throw a stone and when your target retaliates, your house instead of protecting you will shatter. The other is that you shouldn't act aggressively in a fragile structure, as in "People who live in paper houses shouldn't play with matches". People who live around expensive porcelain antiques shouldn't throw stones, or anything else, for the same reason. In this sense it might apply in a delicate negotiation, when harsh rhetoric could destroy the process.

The first of those meanings is the only one that is used. The stones that are thrown are presumed by most people to be thrown at someone else, outside of the house, as an attack. And the reason it's such a bad idea is then obvious: retaliation in kind will result in the destruction of your home. You shouldn't attack when you are vulnerable.

The sense of 'hypocrisy' arises I think because the saying could be used in this context: "Don't start a fight in an area in which you are vulnerable". Don't make fun of someone's speling when they can then turn around and say "You can't even spell 'spelling'." This conveys the sense that you shouldn't criticize others for weaknesses that you share yourself. Not, however, because it's hypocritical, but because it is strategically weak: it is a poor choice of territory on which to fight. Don't start a fight in a swimming pool, if you don't know how to swim. The proverb doesn't suggest moral self-contradiction, or the creation of a rule by which the rule-maker could himself be convicted: it is strategic advice given with ironic intent, not moral judgment.

Its correct use is therefore to imply weakness or charge fault, in the guise of advising caution. "He told you not to do business with me because my accounting was 'tricky'? He'd better watch out the IRS doesn't get an anonymous tip about him. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." It is more natural-sounding as in this example when the weakness - dodgy accounting - is the same as the thing that is attacked. But it doesn't have to be, to preserve the explicit sense of the proverb.

Because of the sense of 'what's natural' in the use of this saying it is reasonable to associate it with hypocrisy. It has something of that sense about it in popular usage. The culture has supplied to the single snapshot of someone standing beside a glass house throwing a stone, the additional view that it is another glass house at which stones are being thrown, and then drawn that into a moral cliche about improving self before criticizing others.

As with anything in language, it becomes a question of what is meant by people who say it, and what is understood by people who hear it. As the idea of 'popular usage' moves from single words or phrases to a whole miniature illustrative story, the degree to which "what is really there" can be semi-deliberately misunderstood is the question I am putting here.

I would suggest that the 'correct' interpretation of the saying is something like "People who are vulnerable shouldn't attack others, especially in ways that draw attention to their own areas of vulnerability".

I agree with this critique and comment. This expression, in its original text, is not so much about hypocrisy as it is of not criticizing others until your own house is in order. However, it doesn't necessarily mean don't criticize because you have done the SAME thing... similar things, maybe, but not the very same thing. For instance, don't criticize and/or spread rumors about someone you think has "stolen a tire", though there is no evidence of such, when you yourself have been convicted of stealing a car!

The actual meaning is closer to that of "if you can't take it, don't dish it out".[edit]

The actual meaning is closer to that of "if you can't take it, don't dish it out". 2602:30A:C0C6:D860:0:0:0:38 21:01, 10 December 2014 (UTC)

I think the usefulness of this saying is actually in its dual meaning[edit]

It's halfway between saying "don't start a fight you can't win" and "don't be a hypocrite," and sort of says both simultaneously.

To be used to maximum effect, the phrase "people who live in glass houses don't throw stones" should be used in a situation where you are not only criticizing someone for attacking someone else when they are vulnerable to counter-attack, but when that vulnerability springs from the very thing that they are attacking the other person for.

It's a little different than just saying that they're a hypocrite, because it implies that they're a uniquely vulnerable hypocrite. It's also very different from merely saying they're vulnerable. The vulnerability has to be itself based on the hypocrisy of what they're doing. A rough translation would go something like this: "How can you criticize someone else for doing something that you yourself are guilty of -- much less when you're the guiltiest one there is?"