Are you a hypocrite?

Let’s save some time. Of course you are; at least if you go by the strict definition of the word. Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform. Every one is a hypocrite in some area of their life.

What is hypocrisy?

But hypocrisy or being a hypocrite is a somewhat dramatic and extreme judgment. It’s deserved only when you continue to act contrary to your declarations and beliefs despite being aware of the inconsistency. In other words, you’re only a hypocrite when you actively, consciously, dishonor your word. Most people— I like to think— don’t do that.

Most of us don’t knowingly act without integrity, and we will try to correct our behaviour when confronted— in a nice way at least— with our hypocrisy.

This confrontation can come from anywhere, a friend, a priest, a child, a book, a spouse, even a talk show host. Trevor Noah continues this tradition on the Daily show, as does Bill Maher on Real Time. Here’s Bill on the hypocrisy of Christians who cheered at the killing of Osama Ben Laden.

Why does hypocrisy matter?

Hypocrisy matters because integrity matters, and integrity matters because it’s the measure by which we honour our commitments to others, and more importantly to ourselves. Hypocrisy, acting contrary to declarations and beliefs, is the opposite of integrity.

Hypocrisy destroys trust, obliterates meaning, and otherwise destroys our capacities to live well and work well together. Hypocrites find it very difficult to build the networks of love and support necessary to live a great life.

Hypocrisy as an opportunity

You’re not a robot and it’s normal that you will at times fail to observe the standards you set for yourself, especially when these standards are newly adopted. But assuming you are committed to honouring your word i.e. to have integrity, then being confronted with your own hypocrisy is an opportunity to evaluate, evolve, or toss your commitments, standards, and beliefs. Confronting your hypocrisy is an opportunity to identify the conflicting values and habits that have you lose integrity.

It’s ok to revoke a commitment you made to yourself, change your standards or beliefs; as long as you do so consciously, declare your new standards, beliefs and commitments; and from then on seek to measure your actions against your new revised standards.

That’s called growth.

Something worse than hypocrisy

As bad as being a hypocrite is, I think there is something worse and that is to stand for nothing, to have no values, no commitments and no purpose—to always act for expediency and how you feel.

At least the hypocrite has a means to course correct; he at least has standards and commitments he can use to restore his integrity.

The person who stands for nothing has no standard to return to, no measure by which she can assess her integrity. From a secular point-of-view, this may be what it means to have no soul.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.